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 9

If you love them, let them go.

In case you haven't guessed it, Arden died. This chapter chronicles how everyone, including Arden, handles the fact that she is no longer alive. Please be prepared for a heart wrenching introspective into Sheila, Thomas (Fish) and Arden as they deal with what has happened.

  Sheila sat on the bench of the balcony that overlooked the garden. Below him was a bounty of color and life spread out over the panorama of the land within its boundary. As he watched, the Duke's young son, along with several other children, ran out from the doorway under the balcony, laughing and shouting into the day.

  Sheila had wanted a child. Back when he was a vixen, he had wanted to have Arden's child. That would never happen now. Even if one had been conceived, it was now too late. It had been too late for many things. Arden had tried to warn him that something was wrong, that there was danger. He had ignored her, assuming she was just nervous due to the hormonal imbalance, because she was in heat.

  Sheila knew how Arden's smell had affected him. Refusing her the night she had become drunk was one of the hardest things Sheila had ever done. Just being in the same room for a long period of time could drive a man up the wall. Arden had been hurt when he hadn't returned that evening to her. How could he tell Arden that she was making him horny whenever they were in the same room?

  The memories were almost too much. It was all he could do to sit upright on the bench. Thomas' shouts had broken his rage. Seeing Arden lying in a pool of blood, her throat cut, had torn the heart from his chest. To his horror, he saw the bloodied Tanto as it lay on the floor behind Thomas. The boy was vainly holding his hands to her neck, bravely trying to save her life, yelling for help.

  Inside his head, Sheila had heard a voice. It was the voice of the dragon, telling him that he could save her. Sheila was now in possession of Arden's body, and with it came his powers. Kneeling beside his love, he remembered giving himself over to the Dragon as it channeled Nanuk. The feeling of mortal agony was almost overwhelming as Nanuk drew power from Sheila's very soul, channeling it into Arden, healing the damage.

  But it had been too late. When the court healer examined Arden, he gave the sad news that the essence was gone. Although Sheila had healed the physical wounds, bringing her back from death, it had been too late. Arden's soul had already fled her mortal shell.

  Hearing a sound behind him, Sheila became aware of a woman as she placed her hand on his shoulder. Glancing back, he saw a handsome face, framed in flowing red hair, an intricate three-banded torque wrapped around her head and resting upon her brow. Her regal stance, head held high, was only marred by the sadness in her hazel eyes.

  "We just wanted to you know we are so sorry for what has happened. We had no idea that Marduke had taken your...lady," she said quietly as she sat beside him. Sheila simply nodded, fighting the urge to cry. "Is it true what the boy, Thomas, has told us?" she asked gently. Looking at the Duchess, Sheila shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry, my lady, but I don't know what you're referring to," Sheila said, somewhat confused. Slightly raising an eyebrow, the Duchess nodded. "The young man has told us that she was once human. That her condition was as a result of a curse," she informed Sheila.

  Sheila was dumbfounded. "Arden had told this to a child?" he asked himself, trying to figure the logic. Thinking on it, he could see the reason. Arden had been lonely, and a stranger in a strange land. She had been befriended by this child who neither knew nor cared who or what she was. All he cared about was the fact that she was kind to him and respected him.

  Reaching up to his chest, Sheila touched the medallion through the cloth of his shirt. Arden had given the amulet to Thomas who had returned it to him, informing him that she had been taken captive. That he would return the medallion itself was a surprise, but when the child also turned over the bag of gold coins, Sheila was stunned. Now to find that he had learned a piece of the truth behind them was an indicator of just how much Arden had trusted the boy.

  "Yes, my lady, it's true. Arden was once human," he replied through a tight throat. He wouldn't tell her that Arden once inhabited the body that Sheila now possessed. Nor would he divulge that his true body is the one Arden had been forced to endure while in this world. Such things seemed trivial now.

  "Then the tragedy is truly compounded beyond what we knew," the Duchess said quietly as she watched the children playing in the garden. "We hate to ask this of you, Lord Sheen, but time requires it," she said, placing a hand on his. "We are scheduled to leave for the imperial capitol city tomorrow. We would like you to accompany us. Do you think you will be up to traveling so soon?"

  For a moment, Sheila was distracted as two small birds took flight, startled by the children. Twisting and turning about themselves, they flew over to a less busy part of the garden and landed out of sight. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I'll quite be ready to travel, my lady," Sheila answered quietly. "We understand completely," the Duchess replied. "We have some leeway in our plans, therefore we shall delay our departure for a few days to give you some more time. Until then, if there is anything that we can do for you, please let us know," she said with all sincerity.

  Standing, she placed a hand on Sheila's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze before returning inside the castle. Sitting alone on the bench, Sheila watched the children, his mind numbed by the experience of the past few hours, unable to contemplate a future without Arden.

  Thomas (Fish to his friends) wandered slowly through the hall of the castle. Sniffing, he remembered taking one last look at Arden before they had shooed him away. She had been so still. It almost wasn't real. She had been so full of energy, so alive.

  That day out in the grass, when she had been practicing with her sword, she had moved with such poetry and speed that it looked more like art than exercise. Dancing with an imaginary adversary, she had done amazing maneuvers, leaping and rolling, always in motion, never stopping. He had been mesmerized by the sunlight as it flashed off the blade of her sword. She had called it a Katana and told him it was over two hundred years old. It was a family heirloom, but now that would end.

  When they had captured her they had taken her swords. She would never have a child, an heir to pass them down to. Maybe Lord Sheen would take them and pass them down for her. Surely Vic would find a new love some day. He could train one of his kids to be a warrior like Arden and give him the swords when he was old enough.

  Thomas used an already soaked portion of his sleeve to wipe the tears from his face. He remembered seeing Arden put the knife to her throat. Fighting with all his strength, he had kept her from completing her gruesome task, but he wasn't fast enough. She had already cut a horrible wound in the side of her neck. He shivered at the memory of trying to stop the flow of blood as it pumped out between his fingers. The sad look in Arden's eyes as she realized just what she had done, desiring to live in the end.

  His cries for help had brought Lord Sheen, but it was too late. Or so Fish had thought. Even though her heart no longer pumped the blood from her body, Lord Sheen had managed to heal her. Fish remembered his eyes as they glowed with an eerie white light as Lord Sheen pressed his hands to Arden's neck, healing her.

  His joy at seeing her breathe was short lived when the court healer came and gave them the terrible news that her spirit had already fled. She was truly lost to them now. Never had anyone found their way back from the afterlife once the cord that bound the spirit had been broken. Arden would never return.

  As he turned a corner, Fish contemplated his future. Arden had considered taking him on as her squire. Now that would never happen. The Duchess had told him that if he needed anything to let her know. Maybe he would ask if they would allow him to become a page at the castle or something. Or perhaps Lord Sheen would take him on, though he doubted that. Vic was nice enough, but it wasn't the same. Something about his eyes scared Fish. Without Arden, it wouldn't be the same.

  Sniffing, Fish wiped his nose on the back of his shirt as he haunted the halls, looking for some meaning to what had happened. If only he had been a little faster.....

  I felt like I was in a dream. I had an incredible sense of well being as I stood in the locker room at ZZ Studios. This was where Sheila had made the wish that had catapulted us into a new world.

  Looking down at myself I saw that I was still in Sheila's body, though I had a faint glow about myself. My wounds were healed. There was no pain, just existence. Reaching out to Sheila's locker, I tried to open it, but my hand simply passed through the metal of the latch.

  Walking as if in a dream towards the door that would lead to the main corridor, Tammy startled me as she came around the corner. She didn't break her stride as she passed right through me, never noticing that I was there. As I watched her walk towards her locker I saw her give a little shiver. She looked miserable, her ears wilted, her tail almost dragging. Our disappearance had obviously hit her hard. Losing a sister would do that to you.

  I turned and walked out into the hall, then headed towards Zig Zag's office, stopping at the closed door. I hesitated for a moment before pressing through. Inside I saw her sitting at the desk, hunched over her paperwork, pencil in mouth, chewing on the eraser. As I watched she threw the pencil down and closed the folder. Swiveling her chair, I saw her lean back and look at the wall, a tear in her eye as she looked at the pictures there.

  I had never bothered to pay much attention to that wall. Looking closely I saw that she had added two new pictures to her collection. One was of Bjorn, a publicity shot that they had taken for the new movie, a movie he would never complete now. Next to it was a picture of Sheila and me, dressed in the silk costumes that we had worn our last day there.

  Under each picture I saw a small plaque; Sheila and Arden, Bjorn, Tor, Lianas, and more. Each picture showed someone who had worked for the company, but was now gone. Unlike Tor and Bjorn, our picture didn't have a date. I guess Zig Zag just told everyone that we had gone walkabout like Sheila had planned. I suppose it was better that way.

  Looking back at Zig Zag I felt the urge to give her a hug, but knew it was impossible. I was intangible. I was a ghost. Despite my desire to live, I had managed to die anyway. I had abandoned all I loved and cared for. Now, all I had to do was figure out why I was back here at the studio when I should have moved on. If I were going to haunt anyone, I should be haunting Sheila. It was confusing.

  My desire to see an answer rekindled, I walked through the wall and back out into the hallway, heading down towards Sabrina's cube. I had avoided her while I was alive. Knowledge of her potentially grim future had made me an emotional wreck around her.

  Hesitant at seeing her again, I paused before stepping through the door and into the closet she called an office. Within, I saw that the lights were on. Stacked up on the desks I saw the usual folders of pictures and other promotional materials as well as several very thick books. Sitting there in front of her computer, I saw Sabrina looking at a graphic on the screen and comparing it to something in a book.

  Walking over behind her I saw that she was studying the medallion. How the heck had she gotten a picture of it? Leaning closer I saw that, although a great amount of detail was visible, it was actually zoomed out. The full image must have been scanned at an extreme resolution. As I tried to figure it out the answer hit me. Sheila must have come to Sabrina with the amulet and asked her to do some research for her. Now the poor kid was digging around trying to find an answer to a puzzle for someone who would never benefit from it.

  Curious at what she had found out, I looked over her shoulder at the notepad she had been writing in. It showed a good quality sketch of the amulet and its symbols. Outside the amulet was a sort of translation index for the various symbols. I was shocked to see that "demon", "Lakesh" and "dragon" all were related icons. In fact, as I read through her various notes on the bibliography of the icons, I realized that Lakesh was supposed to be a dragon.

  This information came as a shock to me. If Lakesh was a dragon, then it's very likely that the Great Dragon I had encountered was, in fact, Lakesh. If that was true, then we were truly lost. Even if Sheila were to continue and complete my quest, then he would undoubtedly do so to the betterment of the demon and detriment of Nanuk.

  I hung my head at the thought of failing Nanuk. I had let my grief and despair over what had happened destroy all that I had worked so hard to accomplish. Nanuk had placed all her hope in me and I had proven to be unworthy. My failure now complete, I continued to haunt the halls of the studio, searching for a way out of my personal hell.

  A cool breeze blew through Sheila's hair as he sat watching the sunset. He had remained rooted to the bench the entire afternoon. Body drained of all energy, he just wanted to lie down and rest. Forcing himself to stand, he turned and walked wearily into the castle.

  Sheila was aware of the occasional staff member walking through the halls. His destination reached, he paused outside the door. Drawing a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped into the room. It was a large bedroom with expensive looking wood paneling. At the foot of the large canopy bed was a fireplace, and on the far wall were two large windows with the drapes pulled back, permitting the last light of dusk to filter in. A ladies dressing table with a large, silvered mirror sat in the corner. On the bed he saw Arden's body as it lay under the sheets.

  She looked like she was just sleeping. The rise and fall of her chest as she breathed proved that there was life, but the essence of her spirit was gone. He had saved her only to lose her at the same time. Taking a seat on the bed beside her, he took a paw into his hand. Its warmth felt odd. He had almost expected her to be cold, though he knew she wouldn't be.

  He remembered the conversation that had taken place a short time before. The healer had come to him with some disturbing news. He had checked up on Arden in order to magically void her wastes as her body lingered. Since Sheila had given him permission to magically examine her body he had performed a sort of scan to see what made her tick.

  He had found most everything in the usual places. Their shapes may have been a bit different, but they were still recognizable. What had surprised him was to discover that she was pregnant. The Duchess had instructed him to make sure that nothing could come of what had happened to her. In searching for an egg he had instead found a bundle of life growing. It couldn't have been more than a week old, but it was definitely not from what had just occurred.

  The shock of the news had thrown Sheila's world into even more chaos than it had been before. During what he had believed to be their last night together, Sheila had intentionally discarded all the contraceptives that would have prevented conception. Sheila had wanted to have Arden's baby. Now, it seemed that they had succeeded, unbeknownst to Arden.

  They could keep her alive. The healer said that using magic they could feed her and take care of waste products. By keeping her healthy they would create a fertile ground for the cub she would give birth to. It was up to Sheila, though; he would have to decide. Should he keep her alive in order to give birth to a child, an inhuman animal that would never know its other parent, or should he allow her to die, and with her their child?

  Sheila had lost Bjorn the day he had proposed to her. In her grief, she had destroyed all hope of seeing those she had loved at the studio. Arden had killed herself the day he had tried to save her. Now Sheila must choose life or death for the last remaining bit of love in his life. How could anyone be asked to make such a decision? How could he live with the loss?

  Climbing onto the bed, Sheila crawled close to the still form beside him. Holding her hand close to his chest, he quietly cried himself to sleep.

  Due to my inability to leave, I stood by the front door, watching as Zig Zag locked up. She was the last one to leave. As I watched her go I felt the terrible loneliness of being left behind. I was anchored here. Something kept me from leaving this place. I was trapped within a world of memories.

  "Hello good looking, do you know where a boy can have a good time?" I heard a deep Scandinavian-accented voice behind me say. Turning, I saw the faintly glowing figure of Bjorn standing no more than a few feet away. "Hello, Bjorn. What are you doing here?" I asked. Giving me a smile, he stepped forward and embraced me. Unlike the others in this nether-world, his touch was as warm and solid as I'd remembered it in life. "I have come to take you away from this place. To help you move on to the next life," he explained as he stepped back. "My, but you have changed, and for the better," he said with a laugh. Smiling for the first time since getting here, I nodded.

  As I looked at him, standing before me, I felt a feeling of joy mixed with sorrow. "God, Bjorn, it's good to see you," I said, embracing him again, holding him tight. "I'm so sorry I got you killed," I said, trying not to cry. Returning the embrace, he patted me on the back. "Ja, do not worry about it. It is all in the past," he said, trying to alleviate my guilt. I took a step back from him, shaking my head. "I don't accept that. This has been all my fault, and you've paid the price for it," I confessed, looking away from him.

  With great gentleness he placed his paw against my muzzle and forced me to face him. "You showed me how great my love was for Sheila. If it were not for you, I would have been content with thinking of her as just another romp in the hay," he said with a smile. 'Ja, we didn't get to enjoy the moment. Ja, I was shot by a man in the helicopter. That was not your fault. It was their fault. You tried to save us. You did what you had to. You did it for love," he explained.

  He gazed deep into my eyes, piercing my soul. "Regrets are what bind you to this place, Arden. They are what are holding you back. There is only one thing you should regret; you have broken your promise." he stated simply. I was confused. "I don't understand, Bjorn. What promise?" With a small shake of his head, he smiled. "We agreed that Sheila's happiness came first. Right now, I do not think Sheila is very happy with what you have done," he explained.

  Pulling his hands away from my face, I turned away. I knew that he was right. I had allowed my despair over what had happened to control me. Killing myself hadn't been an answer. It had only made things worse. Now Sheila was going to have to find a way home without my help. I had really screwed the pooch. Considering the fact that I was the pooch now, it seemed a most appropriate term.

  Bjorn turned me so I faced him again. Taking my muzzle in his paws once again, he pulled me down and began to kiss me. Surprise caused my eyes to open wide, but I soon relaxed into the feeling, embracing him again, enjoying the feeling. After a few moments, he broke it off. "Not bad," he commented with a sly grin. "You are not quite up to Sheila's standards, but with a little practice..." he said, allowing the compliment to trail off. With a mock scowl, I peered down on the little otter. "Some how, I think I've got a biased jury," I complained with a smile.

  Bjorn put his arm around me, escorting me towards Sabrina's office. As we approached, the doorway glowed with a white light. "So tell me Bjorn," I asked, "do they have sex in the afterlife?" My answer was a laugh followed by a goose on my rear end. I smiled, imagining spending eternity with Bjorn as we stepped through the glowing portal and into the light.

  Sheila and Thomas stood next to the bed containing Arden's body, the young boy sniffing. "But why do you have to do this, Lord Sheen? Why can't you wait? Maybe she'll find a way back!" he pleaded. Kneeling, Sheila gave the young boy a hug as he cried on his shoulder. "We have to let her go, William. It's not right to keep her like this. It''s something I have to do," Sheila said, fighting back emotions.

  Released from Sheila's grasp, Thomas leaned over the bed and gave Arden a light kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for letting me pet your tail," he said quietly, then turned and fled the room.

  Sheila stood and looked down at the still form before him. Arden's body lay there as if sleeping. As he watched the slow rise and fall of her chest with each breath, Sheila knew that what he was about to do would be the right thing. Taking a seat next to Arden on the bed, Sheila bent over and kissed her goodbye.

  After wiping the tears from his eyes, he drew the Tanto that Arden had given him. His reflection in the blade, tarnished by Arden's blood, made him realize that he had never cleaned it. "I guess I better remember to clean this thing," he said with a little chuckle. "If I don't, you'll probably come back and haunt me for not taking care of your swords," Sheila jested, trying to break the moment.

  "Goodbye, my love," Sheila said quietly as he reached out with the dagger, finally willing to grant Arden the release she had desired.