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
Sheila lay in bed, trapped in that narrow region between sleep and wakefulness. The smell of coffee from the kitchen tickled her nose, making her smile. As always, there was that one beam of light that the blinds could never keep out. It was the same one that would always shine directly into her eyes on the lazy mornings when she didn't wish to wake up. A small groan escaped her muzzle as she reached up to block the sun from her eyes. Slowly the world came into focus. Not the world that she was used to, with her bed, car and all the amenities, but rather the open wilderness with its grasses and a small fire pit, complete with an old tin coffee pot.
Disoriented, Sheila rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and looked again. The fire and coffee pot were still there, as was an odd looking metal gadget with bread sandwiched between wires, propped over the fire. On the far side of the pit sat something that startled Sheila fully awake.
Bolting upright, Sheila snatched up the scabbard that lay next to her bedroll and drew the sword. To her chagrin, the creature on the other side simply blew on the cup of coffee that it held before taking a sip. Casually sitting on the rock as if without a worry in the world, Hecate smiled as she savored the flavor of the coffee.
"Who the hell are you?" Sheila asked as she glanced around to see if there was anyone else. To her surprise, the undead guards she had placed were still standing in a circle around her fire, ignoring the newcomer.
Hecate took another sip and smiled. "Would you like some coffee?" She set her cup down and picked up an empty one while reaching for the pot. "It's quite good, you know. Earth prime stuff, not the garbage you get around here. Pure Columbian."
The demonic-looking Imir paused before pouring the coffee, then proceeded to fill the cup. She then sat the pot back on the fire while reaching through the flames to set the steaming cup down in front of Sheila. "Relax," She said, picking her cup up and taking another sip. "If I'd wanted to harm you, I would have done it while you were asleep."
A frown settled on Sheila face as she stared at Hecate. "That still doesn't explain who you are or why you're here."
The Imir sighed and leaned back against a large rock. "My name is Hecate," she explained in a tired voice. "As for why I'm here, I have been sent by the sorcerer Ruddygore to locate you and return you to him."
"Ruddygore?" Sheila echoed in surprise. "Since when does he give a damn about me?"
The ebony woman shrugged. "I'd say that he's been looking ever since he discovered that you were in this realm." Taking another sip, Hecate shook her head. "All I know is that he doesn't call me in to track someone unless they're damn important, and he was in all kinds of a hurry to find you."
"Harrumph," Sheila grumbled as she sheathed the sword. "Yah, right. The son of a bitch can wait. I've got other things I need to do first."
"Hold on a second, there," Hecate said, with a half grin. "When the head of the Council of Mages wants to find someone, you don't just blow him off."
Sheila leaned forward and pointed her cup at Hecate. "The bastard knew where I was for three months, yet he let me rot there, so I'm not in any hurry to get to him now that he feels the need." She took another sip from her coffee. "I'm not some pet he can call whenever he wants me."
"Back off, lady," Hecate said with a sharp edge to her voice. "I happen to know for a fact that Ruddygore was over on Earth Prime until just recently. Now I don't know who's been feeding you a line of disinformation, but Ruddygore doesn't play those kinds of games." She swirled the coffee around the bottom of the cup before draining it. "Ruddy may not be a saint, but he's not the kind that would do or not do something unless there's a good reason."
"Oh, yah?" The vixen quickly threaded the three swords into the sash around her waste before standing up. "Well, give your master a message for me. I've got unfinished business that I need to take care of. Until then, he can just shove off."
The ebony Imir stood at the same time as Sheila. "Look, I don't know what you're trying to accomplish here, but the simple fact is that I've been ordered to track you down and take you back to Ruddygore. So why don't you just calm down, eat some breakfast and we'll start heading up towards Terindell afterwards."
"No," Sheila said, drawing the Katana. Ears flat against her skull, she scowled at Hecate. "I've been poked, prodded, misled, lied to, kidnapped, shot at and damn near killed a dozen times over in four different realities. I don't give a damn what Ruddygore wants or why. All I know is that I have pressing business that doesn't involve the sorcerer yet, and if you know what's good for you, you'll get out of my way."
Hecate hastily backed out of the way as Sheila stormed by. As the vixen passed one of the zombie guards, Sheila used the hilt of the sword to bang on its helmet. "Hey! Bone head!" she yelled to the armored figure. "Mount up. We're moving out." The circle of undead turned and made their way to their mounts and climbing into the saddle. Sheila, having sheathed the sword, paused before climbing all the way into the carriage. "Oh yah," she said to Hecate. "Thanks for the coffee." With that, she climbed inside and closed the door.
Hecate muttered a small curse as she watched the carriage pull away. "Whelp," she said, in a low voice as she poured some more coffee. "That didn't go so well." She took another sip of coffee as she watched the procession disappear around a corner and shook her head.
A couple of dozen yards away from the hanging tree sat a freshly dug, shallow grave that had been recently covered over. The dark, fresh earth was piled high, framed by the lighter topsoil around the plot. The unmarked grave was just one of many in the field. Nobody cared who it was that had been buried there, or that their bodies would remain unmolested by scavengers. Already wild dogs were sniffing about the field, looking for new meat. A mangy mastiff discovered the new grave and began sniffing around the new dirt. It's brows furrowed, the dog laid it's ears back and growled. Before its eyes, the ground heaved and shifted, soon to be pierced as a hand shot out from below, flinging a large pile of earth aside. The filthy, dirt encrusted hand withdrew into the ground and shoveled another pile of earth aside. Soon a shoulder emerged, followed by a head. A bald, tattooed head. The dog growled once, then ran off in terror.
Ross spat out a mouth full of soil as he brushed his face off. For the next few minutes, he gasped for air while resting in the shallow grave. Once he had caught his breath, the legless mage dragged his body out of the grave and onto the flat surface. He looked down at the simple shroud that he had been buried in. All of his possessions were gone. A stream of curses filled the night as his body floated into the air. Glaring at the town, he slowly floated in its direction. "First, I'll get my equipment back. Then I'll make that damn smith and the rest of this pathetic little town pay for what they did. Then, Kalla, you and that bitch will feel my wrath."
The team of undead horses nosily rumbled down the narrow trail that lead towards the base of the mountain. Inside, Sheila winced and gritted her teeth at each bounce as they enhanced her need to stop, yet again, to empty her bladder. She was relieved and annoyed at the same time as she felt the team of undead horses come to a halt. A low growl slipped past her lips as she struggled to an upright position and climbed out of the carriage. She took a moment to stretch her cramped muscles before walking around to the front of the procession.
"All right," she said to the lead rider. "What's the holdup?"
The corpse of the cavalier pointed at the path ahead. "Too narrow," it mumbled in a monotone.
Sheila looked at the narrow trail that wound its way up the backside of the mountain and frowned. The corpse might not be too bright, but in this case, it was right. There was no way that oversized luxury wagon was going to make it up the trail. Sheila let out a sigh of exasperation and turned back to the cavalier. "All right, then. Have your men transfer the supplies from the carriage to their horses." She looked around at the assembled horses and frowned before pointing to one that looked the least dilapidated. "I'll take his horse. Send him back with the carriage." She watched the cavalier as his brows furrowed in concentration. After a minute, he nodded and started to direct the other zombies to their tasks. Assured that he had gotten his instructions right, Sheila walked around to the back of the carriage.
"Hi," the cheerful voice of Hecate said, startling Sheila.
"Aaaaah," the vixen cried out in surprise as she jumped back, hand on a sword. "God damn it! Don't do that to me!"
Hecate laughed and climbed down from the back of the carriage. "Are we a little jumpy?"
"Yes!" Sheila barked back. "No!" She gritted her fangs and growled. "What the hell do you expect? How would you react if a uh whatever you are popped out of nowhere and startled you?"
"Point taken," the ebony half-breed conceded while suppressing the urge to chuckle.
"And just what the hell are you doing on my carriage anyway?" Sheila challenged angrily. "I thought I told you to buzz off."
Hecate leaned casually against the wheel of the carriage and shrugged. "Well, I figured that once you're done with your business up here that you'd be ready to see Ruddygore." She flashed the annoyed vixen her best smile, showing the sharp, pointed teeth and fangs. "Besides, I'm not about to risk something happening to you now that I've tracked you down. Ruddygore would be a tad miffed if I did, and I've seen what can happen to a being when he gets miffed."
Sheila closed her eyes, slowly counted to ten, and then let the breath she was holding out in a long sigh. She looked up at the Imir and pursed her lips for a moment, then nodded. "Fine," she said in a terse voice. Walking over to the back of the carriage, she grabbed a bag and tossed it at Hecate who caught it casually. "If you're going to be hanging around, at least you can make yourself useful. Take that up front and put it on one of the horses."
"Yes ma'am," Hecate said with a smile and carried the bag up to the front of the column.
Sheila watched the back of the creature that had thrust itself into her company, then closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. This was going to be a long trip.
Thomas was lost in thought as he walked towards the small hut that was Nanuk's. His eyes down, he paid no attention to the small discrepancies that had crept into the carefully crafted illusion that he maintained. Absentmindedly he entered the hut and sat down at the table, still lost in thought.
"What's wrong?" Nanuk said from her bed by the fire pit.
The fox looked up in surprise and blinked. "Huh?" He paused for a second while Nanuk's words sank in. "Oh. Nothing's wrong," he replied with a forced smile.
A long, slow sigh escaped Nanuk's lips. "Tell me, Thomas Livingston Bryant. Why is it that mortals insist on thinking they can lie to Nanuk in Nanuk's realm without Nanuk knowing?"
Thomas looked down at the ground, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Nanuk," he replied contritely.
Nanuk rolled over onto her side, facing Thomas. "Now, tell me what is bothering you,"
The young fox idly dung the tip of one claw into the surface of the table for a second while he thought. "I'm worried about Miss Sheila," he finally admitted.
The large bear got a look of concern on her face. "In what way, boy?"
"Well," he started hesitantly, reluctant to voice his concerns. "I think the last remnants of the wish spell have worn off."
Nanuk lay back in her bed and nodded. "Ah. We expected this. Now we must see if Nanuk's work has paid off."
"Your work?" Thomas walked over next to the bed and squatted down beside Nanuk. "What are you talking about?"
"When the wish was made, Nanuk foresaw that Arden would need her support." She smiled a sly smile and looked at the young fox. "Nanuk played match maker. Nanuk tried to make both sides understand that the other would fill the empty spot in their heart. Nanuk hoped for love."
"But what about the spell?" Thomas asked excitedly. "How could you tell if they were falling in love for real when they had a love spell on them already?"
Nanuk shrugged and smiled again. "That was the challenge."
Thomas frowned and shook his head. "I don't know, Nanuk. She seems really pissed at him, now."
"And rightly so," Nanuk admitted. "She has been let down repeatedly and now must struggle on her own to bring back the man she loves."
"I don't know," Thomas reiterated with a shake of his head. "From the way she was talking, the only reason she's bringing him back is because she needs him to get home."
"We can only wait and see, Child," Nanuk replied. "As always, we wait."