Story (c) 2000 by Hikaru Katayamma/Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. The character Sheila Vixen (c) Eric W Schwartz. Throckmorton P Ruddygore, Poqua, Lakash (c) Jack L Chalker. 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
Chapter 9

Out of the frying pan

Sheila had ridden her new mount hard all day. Occasionally she would change the pace from a walk to a canter and occasionally a light run. As the horse tired, she would dismount and lead the animal, stopping for no other reason than to eat and relieve herself. Out in the middle of nowhere, she had come to the realization that it was just as easy to drop her drawers anywhere and cut loose. Being this far along in her pregnancy she was finding it difficult not to have to stop and pee every few hours. Combine that with the discomfort from riding, and she was truly one miserable vixen.

As Sheila remounted her horse for the umpteenth time that day, she saw something on the not to distant horizon that made her blood run cold. Sitting on a hill several miles away was another rider carrying some kind of staff or spear. The two riders stared at each other before the stranger urged her horse forward. Sheila, sensing trouble, turned her horse and kicked it into a run.

The setting sun gave the low, rolling hills an eerie look as it projected long, distorted shadows onto the ground. Off in the distance Sheila saw a large stretch of woods. The towering trees promised to make the chase a little more difficult for whoever was following her. Sheila glanced over her shoulder and saw that the stranger had closed the gap by almost a third. With a curse, Sheila turned towards the trees and urged her flagging horse onward.

A feeling of dread came over Sheila, as she got closer to the woods. Another glance over her shoulder showed that her pursuer was riding for all the rider was worth, and closing even faster than before. Sheila growled as she urged her horse onwards towards the forest. A small break in the tree line gave promise to a possible path or road. Angling her horse for the opening, she crouched down low in order to avoid any possible low hanging tree branches.

The sudden change as she crossed the outer boundary of the forest was startling. Where it had been a warm, sunny day, Sheila was now engulfed in a world of cold, shadows. Worse yet, her dread had only increased.

The path she followed made several sharp turns. Her meager riding skills were put to the test as she fought not to be thrown by the sudden twists and turns. One last turn and her horse broke out into a small open area with no obvious paths leading from it. Sheila spun her horse, cursing as she looked for a way out. That's when she heard it.


Not just one voice, but a mass of them. A moment later, to her horror, decayed and rotting bodies began to stumble from the forest. Some of them wore rusty chain or ragged leather armor while others had tatters of clothing. Her horse reared, almost throwing her to the ground. She hauled over on the reins, directing the horse towards the path they had taken to get here and kicked its ribs. The horse squealed in terror, then bolted forwards. Hands grasped at Sheila and the horse, as she burst through the closing circle of walking corpses. Just as the horse was about to reach the trail, Sheila saw more of these things blocking the way.

Again the horse reared, only this time rough hands grasped Sheila and pulled her from the horse. She tried to draw a weapon to defend herself as she heard the horse screaming and flailing about. The last thing she saw before she was knocked unconscious was her mount being devoured alive.

Kalla charged into the forest after her prey. She could smell the evil magic that engulfed the forest. Her spirit lance ready, she navigated her mount through the twisting maze of trees. In the distance, she could hear the high-pitched sounds of Sheila's horse. That's when she came around another corner and ran headlong into a line of walking corpses. Before she could react, her horse was pulled out from under her, sending her tumbling.

Weapon at the ready, she rolled to her feet and began to wade into the bodies around her. The magic of the lance was devastating. Each time it hit one of the animated corpses, there was a flash and the creature would fall. Even with all the speed and skill she could muster, Kalla was unable to save her horse. By the time she had fought her way to it, the creature was clearly dead.

More of the undead began to emerge from the surrounding forest, trying to trap the huntress. Realizing that there was no way she could recover her target, she began to fight her way back towards the outer edge of the forest. It was slow going, and by the time she had finally cleared the forest and left the walking dead behind, the sun had completely disappeared behind the horizon.

Kalla squatted on a small hill, not far from the forest as she tried to catch her breath. A tear rolled down her eye as she thought about the fate of her horse. He had been her steed for several years now and she had come to think of him as a partner. It was just one more reason for her to make whoever was in that forest pay for interrupting her hunt.

Sheila woke up to the realization that she was being carried. It was difficult to see without any torchlight, but she could tell that they were inside of some kind of building. Intricately carved stone masonry tiled the floor that she was being dragged across. A quick look at the two creatures that were carrying her showed that they were either unaware or unconcerned with the fact that she was awake.

Bringing her knees up as close to her chest as she could, she swung her feet out in front, planted them and pushed off, breaking their grasp. She stumbled for a step or two before recovering her balance. The creatures on the other hand, continued walking for several paces before it dawned on them that they were no longer carrying anything.

Sheila drew the wakazashi and tanto from her belt, surprised to still find them there. The glow from the blades provided her enough light to see for about ten or fifteen feet, illuminating the two creatures that had taken a couple of more steps before realizing that they were no longer carrying anything. Slowly they turned and walked back towards Sheila.

As the first one came into range she struck out at it with the wakazashi, slashing it across the chest. A bright flare of magic was echoed by a loud moan as the creature stumbled, fell and then quickly decomposed, leaving nothing but dust behind. Again Sheila struck with the sword, reducing the second creature to dust.

With the wakazashi held high, Sheila surveyed as much of the room as she could see. Metal reflected from shuffling bodies that approached from behind her. Dozens of fresh bodies wearing armor and shields shuffled her way, each with a sword in its hand. Testing their response, Sheila made an attempt to slash one across its exposed face only to have the creature parry her attack with a casual motion of its shield, showing that these weren't going to be a pushover.

Sheila backpedaled, looking for another way out. Behind her, she saw a large, double door standing open. Mounted on the inside of the doors were brackets and swing-arms that were designed to easily bar the door. After sheathing her tanto, Sheila grabbed first one door, then the other, hastily pulling them closed. She then slammed the bars down across the doors, preventing them from being opened.

She leaned back against the door and glanced around the room she was in. Ornate tiles could be seen under the dust and grime on the floor. Tall, marble pillars were set off to either side of the doorway, climbing into the gloom overhead. She could barely make out the roof that was suspended some twenty or so feet overhead.

Cautiously she proceeded into the room, sweeping the sword from side to side, looking for any signs of trouble. When she was approximately twenty feet into the room, a strong voice spoke an odd sounding word. As it echoed around the chamber, torches on the wall burst into flames, illuminating the hall.

Set into cul-de-sacs around the outside of the room, were suits of armor with shield and sword. Dust and cobwebs hung from the immobile pieces of armor. At the far end, another thirty feet away, she saw a stone throne sitting on a low dais. Sitting on the throne was a frail-appearing mummy. The bandages and red cloak that swathed it were torn and rotted. What immediately raised Sheila's hackles was the life-like reflections the torchlight showed from its deep-set eyes. On the floor in front of the dais lay a figure in ornate armor. Standing near by were three suits of armor that remained motionless.

"Welcome, Sheila Vixen," the mummified creature said in a low and raspy voice.

"H-h-how d-d-do you know my name?" she asked, shaken by what she had seen.

The creature smiled showing a mouth full of sharpened teeth and a pair of fangs. "I have been---" It paused, as if searching for a word. "---Waiting for you."

"Waiting?" Sheila echoed. "Why were you waiting for me?"

Before the creature could answer, the armor that lay on the floor moaned and stirred. The mummified being waved to the three suits of armor, which hefted the prone form, standing it up between them. As the warrior struggled to his feet, he looked up at the figure on the dais. "Rathsmon!" he hissed as he struggled to free himself.

"Yesssss," Rathsmon hissed as a reply. "Welcome to my humble abode, cavalier." He rose from his dais and approached the struggling man. "Speaking of which. Just why have you come here?"

The man stopped struggling and spat at the shrouded form. "To kill you, of course!"

Rathsmon ignored the spittle that slowly soaked into the bandages around his face. "Such antagonism. What have I ever done to you?" he asked innocently of the warrior.

"What have you done?" the man echoed, outraged at the question. "How can you ask a question like that? All around you are the defiled bodies of those who you have killed."

The creature smiled. "That's not true. Some of these were dead before I ever came to this place"

"That doesn't matter!" the man shouted. "You are an abomination and must be destroyed." Again he began to struggle futile against the armored figures that held him captive.

"My dear, dear, cavalier," Rathsmon said with a honeyed voice. "Come now, surely you realize that you have no chance of killing me." He smiled again, rotating his face clockwise. "Are you so anxious to die? Aren't you going to beg for your life?"

"Never," the man spat out vehemently.

"I'll tell you what," Rathsmon said, straightening up and holding a finger before him. "If you swear to leave my lands in peace and never to return. I'll let you leave this place unharmed."

"Never!" the man replied again. "I'll never bargain with the likes of you!"

Sheila watched transfixed as Rathsmon returned to his throne. "That's too bad," he replied. The man cried out and stumbled forwards, freed from his captor's grasp, the hit of a short sword protruding from his back. He tried to reach backwards to grasp the hilt as he fell to his knees. A final, gurgling sound was soon accompanied by the clatter of armor as he once again fell flat on the ground. A puddle of blood slowly began to form under the body.

Rathsmon stepped down from the dais and knelt by the body. Placing his hand on the head, the corpse was engulfed in a black glow for a moment before he released it. As the creature returned to his throne, the corpse slowly climbed to it's feet. From behind hit, the third armored figure walked up and withdrew the sword it had used to slay the man and sheathed the weapon.

"Now," Rathsmon said, settling himself in his seat, "where were we?"

"You monster," Sheila growled in a husky voice.

"Maybe. But I did give him a choice," he said, as he nodded to his newest subject. "I wasn't lying when I said I would let him go if he swore never to come back." He sighed and sounded a bit wistful. "I don't know why, but for some reason they never believe me."

"You'll not add me to your collection!" Sheila growled as she started to move forward. A red glow spread itself over her armor as she gripped the wakazashi with both paws.

"No, wait!" Rathsmon cried out as his minions moved to intercept her.

With a savage stroke of the sword, Sheila's wakazashi slashed through the sword and armor of her first opponent. A flash of light and empty armor clattered to the ground. She dodged a blow from the second creature by squatting low and spinning. Her leg shot out as she came around, sweeping her heavy adversary off his feet, slamming the armored figure to the ground. Muscles flexed and she leapt over the fallen body to attack the next creature. The glow around her flared as she swung the sword, cleaving the shield and biting into decrepit flesh. Once again, there was a flash as empty armor clattered to the ground.

Her last adversary had no weapon, yet it stumbled mindlessly towards her, obeying unheard commands from its master. With an almost contemptuous stroke, she took its head, dropping the rapidly decaying body to the ground.

Sheila let out a rising growl as she charged Rathsmon with the sword held high. She leapt into the air, timing her jump so that she would land on the dais within striking distance. Rathsmon cried out in terror, holding his right hand out in a vain attempt to stop her attack. A the sight of his hand, Sheila pulled her swing, causing the sword to slash off a corner of Rathsmon's throne as she deflected the blow.

In shock, she stared at the pattern, which had been branded into the leathery skin. It was the same pattern that she had seen on Arden's paw. Burned into the flesh of this creature was the laughing face of Lakash.

A bright flash and a peal of thunder split the night sky outside the forest. Though the low flying rain clouds still drifted overhead, they were not responsible for the disturbance. A brief opening in the fabric of space appeared, spit out the flying form of Hecate, and then vanished as quickly as it came.

Hecate circled high above the ground to get her bearings. She was back near the woods where she had been attacked, which was a good thing. She hadn't wanted to appear over the woods and risk another attack, and yet not appear so far that she would need to spend a lot of time traveling back to the place.

She slowly drifted towards the forest, reaching out with her inner senses. She tasted the unnatural sensation that she had encountered before. It was a wrongness that told her an unnatural creature existed there. Only there was a problem. She now sensed a second creature. This one wasn't unnatural, yet it clearly wasn't of this world.

Hecate glided to the ground near the forest and started to make her way in when she suddenly stopped. The forest was infested with creatures that she could barely perceive. They had no life force for her to taste, yet they were virtually everywhere. Making a hasty retreat, Hecate ran back out into the open and took flight again.

Once she was what she considered a safe distance away, she glided in a circle, as she tried to catch her breath. She had run into creatures like this before. The Zombie King had hundreds of thousands of lifeless, soulless bodies in his armor, and they had felt the same way. But Ruddygore had killed the Zombie King, or at least that was the story.

She looked around and spotted a good place to make camp for the night. Come dawn she would decide how to proceed.