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 14


Rathsmon paced back and forth, occasionally pausing to look at the cave where he could hear Sheila arguing with the dragon. The simple fact that it hadn't burned her to a crisp when she reentered the lair was a positive sign, though the raised voice of the vixen didn't do much to reassure him of her continued existence. He glanced over at a dark colored boulder that was, in fact, the camouflaged Imir, busily regenerating her wounds.

The sound of bones being kicked brought his attention back to the cave, and to Sheila as she exited. The vixen looked pissed. With her hand on the hilt of her sword, she looked ready to kill . Rathsmon considered saying something to her, but the deadly gleam in her eye when she stormed by convinced him that discretion was the safest choice in the matter. He watched her for a minute before she rounded a corner and was out of sight. He was tempted to follow her and make sure she was all right, but having seen her in action he had no doubt she could take care of herself.

Turning back to the cave, Rathsmon pursed his mummified lips for a moment before walking towards the mouth of the tunnel. Cautiously he entered and made his way to the main chamber. Peeking around the corner, he could clearly see the dragon as it lay on the floor, its head propped up on one true-hand while the other idly flicked bits and pieces of bone across the room.

He paused to study the creature. When they had initially found it, the dragon had been frozen in a position where it was hunched over and its head was low to the ground after breathing. Now, sprawled out on the floor and relaxing, Rathsmon realized that his initial impression of the creature hadn't done it justice. The main body was close to sixty-five or seventy meters in length. Add another twenty meters for the neck and head, and you had a most formidable creature. Its bronze coloration tended to fade towards the belly, where it took on a gold tint. The wings were close to bronze along the leading edges, fading to gold then eventually just the barest hint of color on the trailing edges.

Unlike the lesser dragons he'd seen before, this one not only had the four legs with their grasping claws that would, in a pinch, be useful for grabbing something, but also had two true hands. While he watched, the dragon used a clawed digit on its right hand to scratch a spot between the double row of horns on the right side of its head. It then flicked a skull in Rathsmon's general direction.

Well? he heard, echoing in his head. Are you going to stand there all day, staring, or are you going to come in?

A startled expression fluttered over the mummified face before he recovered and stepped out of the tunnel and approached the dragon. "I didn't want to disturb you," he said, trying to act casual as another bone skipped by and ricocheted down the tunnel.

Now why in the world would you be bothering me? the disembodied voice asked as the dragon crossed his arms. In fact, if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't be here now.

Rathsmon straightened up and with a small, self-satisfied smile ambled over to the dragon's general vicinity. "Exactly." He found a relatively clean spot on the ground and sat down. "I'm glad you know about that. I was terribly afraid that you might not realize what was going on and react badly to your situation."

Oh, I was aware, all right, the dragon replied. In fact, I specifically remember Sheila making the wish that brought us here and dying as we crossed the dimensional barrier. He paused and tapped the bottom of his chin with a claw on his right index finger. I fully expected to wind up in the after life, but then I found myself inside of that jewel of yours. Needless to say I was a bit startled at what had happened.

"No doubt," the necromancer agreed. "Lakash didn't give me much warning. I hardly had time to find a gem of sufficient quality and prepare the ritual before the signal to summon you came. It was a close thing."

Yes, I imagine it was, the dragon agreed, nodding solemnly. Then I remember you picking up the gem and wrapping it in a cloth. He crossed his arms and looked back down at the sitting corpse with a somewhat inquisitive expression. What was it called?

Rathsmon gave the dragon a blank stare for a moment before the question registered. "Oh yes. The cloth. That was the Shroud of Modeska," he replied, taking care to pronounce the name correctly. "It was to prevent the gem from being located by scrying spells and the like."

The Shroud of Modeska, Arden parroted as he absorbed the knowledge. That was a smart move, preventing it from being easily located with a spell, he agreed while giving the proud corpse a nod. After that, you took the gem and placed it in a small box. What was that for?

"The box," Rathsmon repeated, while thinking back. "Oh yes, the box. That is the Chest of Dal Nakur. It blocks magic."

Arden cocked his head to the side as he gave Rathsmon a curious look. Really? Why do that?

"It's simple, really," he replied with a slight air of superiority. "The incantation that trapped your spirit in the gem was rushed. There was the possibility that you could break free if you could summon enough energy. Since that would have ruined everything, I thought it best to prevent that from happening."

Ahhhhh. I see, the dragon replied, nodding. And then you placed the box in the back of an old cabinet and covered it up with other junk to hide it, right?

Rathsmon nodded. "Right. We wouldn't want any thieves just…" The necromancer paused as a thought suddenly hit him. "Say, wait a minute.That spell should have kept you dormant."

Dormant? Arden replied with mock surprise. Oh, I was far from dormant, he stated as a low, rumbling sound echoed around the room. Rathsmon clambered quickly to his feet as the dragon glared at him. It was quite the contrary, actually. From the moment you trapped my spirit in that stone I was awake. Awake, aware and imprisoned. The dragon rose up on its rear legs and towered over the necromancer. For six months I was locked away in the back of that cabinet, unable to scry beyond the limits of the box and bereft of power to break free. For SIX months I was awake and alone in the dark with nothing to mark the passing of the time. For SIX MONTHS I was in a hell beyond your comprehension, trapped with nothing but my memories and regrets to haunt me! The forelegs came down on the ground with a resounding crash, pulverizing the scattered bones and rock beneath them. Oh yes. I remember you. And now I think it's time I properly thanked you….

= = = = =

Sheila came barreling around the corner at, considering her current condition, was an all out run. She skidded to a stop outside the tunnel entrance and looked around, trying to figure out where Hecate was. After a moment of indecision, she drew the tanto and began to bang on the boulders. "Hey! Wake up!" she shouted as she continued to bang on the boulders. The last one shifted as she hit it.

"Hey!" a rather groggy Imir complained as she unfurled her wings. "Take it easy with that thing."

"Get up," Sheila urged, grabbing the hellspawned by her arm and lifting. "We've got to get out of here."

Hecate got to her feet and examined the wound in her stomach. It was well scarred over, but not entirely healed. She gingerly poked and prodded herself, occasionally wincing to verify just how much she had managed to heal. "So what's the big rush?" she asked, looking up at the vixen.

"We've got a small army coming up the mountain," Sheila replied as she nervously looked back the way she came. "We have maybe half an hour or so before they get here, tops."

"Ok, that's a rush," the Imir agreed. Together they began walking towards the tunnel. "Let's see if your boyfriend is up to winging it out of here. Otherwise, we're going to be in for some trouble."

The pair had just reached the mouth of the cave when they both froze in their tracks at the sound coming from within. It could be best described as a combination between a freight train, foghorn and a fire hose hitting a metal shed. The sound was followed closely by a bright orange and yellow glow that billowed rapidly towards them. Hecate let out a curse as she turned and grabbed Sheila. With the flick of her hand she reached beyond the vale of space and time, opened a rift to earth prime and tried to drag Sheila through it. Unfortunately their feet became tangled in the confusion, dragging them both to the ground.

Sheila still held the tanto in her right hand. Out of reflex she held it out and away from the pair as they fell. In almost perfect synchronization the two females let out a curse. Sheila closed her eyes and looked away while Hecate frantically tried to think of a spell that might save them from becoming charcoal. Her casting was interrupted by the bright glow of the tanto as the flames reached and passed over them. The sound of a waterfall buffeted them as the flames blew by, accelerated by the narrow confines of the tunnel. All the while, Sheila screamed in echo to the nightmare that surrounded them.

It only took a few seconds for the flames to diminish and disappear entirely, but that was nothing compared to the amount of air that Sheila was pushing out in her scream. Eventually she ran out of breath and inhaled for another yell before suddenly realizing that she could inhale. Opening her eyes, she saw that the two of them had remained untouched by the flames that had passed over them. It was then that she let out another screech and dropped the glowing dagger on the ground. She let out a long stream of curses concerning the dagger, its manufacture and what had just happened, all while holding her injured paw out in front of her. Hecate glanced at it and winced in sympathy at second and third degree burns that crisscrossed her palm and fingers. The pattern matched the one woven into the smoldering handle.

A rapid series of thumps that were more felt than heard preceded the appearance of a large dragonhead in the corridor. It didn't take more than a second for Arden to size up the situation. /Are you two all right?/

"Are we all right?" Sheila shouted back, angrily. "Pretty brilliant fucking time to think about our safety. You could have killed me!"

Actually, no. the dragon responded casually. I couldn't have killed you with my breath.

"Yah, right," she replied, kicking the smoldering tanto towards the dragon. "You're just lucky that I had your stupid sword drawn, that's all."

No. She's lucky you had it drawn, he again replied casually. The armor you wear would have protected you from the breath. Or don't you think that Lakash would have taken that possibility into account when he created it for me?

"OK. Fine. Be that way, Mr. Technicalities." She managed to climb to her feet with the assistance of Hecate. "That doesn't change the fact that I just burned the fuck out of my hand because of it."

Arden picked up the tiny weapon and held it lengthwise between his thumb and forefinger. Sorry about that, he replied, while scratching that spot on his head again. I never did quite figure out how to divert the feedback from the shield spell when I enchanted it. He held the claw of his right index finger out to Sheila at about her waist level. Let me see your hand and I'll heal it.

She pulled back from him while shooting him a dirty look. "Keep your grubby paws off of me," she exclaimed while turning away. "I don't need or /want/ anything from you. Especially not your pity or your help."

The dragon closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath, then opened them and handed Hecate the dagger. Please attend to her wound.

Hecate took the dagger, which was quite warm to the touch still, though not intolerable and tucked it into her belt. "I think maybe we should hold off on the first aid for the moment and worry more about that army that's coming up the hill."

"Oh yah. That's right. They weren't too far from the entrance. They'll be here soon." Sheila looked back towards the side of the mountain expectantly, as if the army would come marching around the corner on cue. She then shot Arden a hard look and rather sarcastically asked, "OK. You're the Big Kahuna here. What do we do now?"

He gazed out past the end of the tunnel for a few moments while he though. You didn't happen to notice if they had any magic types, did you?

"Sorry. I didn't really notice," Sheila pointed back the way she came. "Would you like me to go ask? Maybe I can get a list of what all they've got with them."

"They will," Hecate interrupting Arden's reply. "There's a rule that practically demands it."

Sheila shot the Imir a curious glance. "Rule?"

You're probably right, and I'm not up for any kind if fighting at the moment. The dragon started forward, forcing the women out of the tunnel by the very fact that there wasn't enough room for anything but the dragon in the tunnel. Once outside, Arden reared back and unfurled his wings, stretching them to work the kinks out before setting back down gently on the ground. Climb on board and we'll get out of here. He lowered one wing and knelt his foreleg to give them a way up.

Sheila stopped as Hecate was giving her a hand up and looked around. "Where's Rathsmon?" She jumped back down and started towards the tunnel. "We can't leave without him."

Arden shifted his wing, dipping it further against the ground to block her path. Don't worry about him. He's back in his gem for now. If he wants to come out, he will.

Hecate reached down and grabbed Sheila's arm. "Come on. He's telling the truth." She gave Sheila another tug to encourage her to climb up. "I can sense it. Now let's go. We've got to get out of here."

The vixen studied her companion's face for a moment before nodding and climbing up on to the back of the dragon. "If you guys are yanking my chain---" she muttered in an implied threat, not bothering to finish it. Together the two females climbed along the wing until they reached the dragon's neck. There they found a place between the ridges that would make a serviceable saddle.

The dragon started moving towards the edge of the cliff. Ladies or whatever you are. This is your captain speaking. I'd like to thank you for flying Dragon Air, and I highly suggest that you hold on tight because here we go! With that he spread his wings and dove off the cliff, plummeting down a good distance to pick up speed before he pulled out of the dive. Powerful muscles flexed, driving the wings down to give lift and speed.

Sheila was just beginning to think they might have gotten away when Arden was jolted to a stop as if he were anchored to the ground. Hecate wrapped her arms around Sheila as her momentum drove her into the vixen. She then used her wings to help stabilize them as the dragon furiously pumped its wings trying to gain altitude.

This isn't going to work. Hold on tight because this is going to get interesting. The dragon wheeled over and dove towards the army.

"Are you crazy? That's exactly what they want!" Hecate debated trying to pull away from the dragon,but decided it would be less dangerous to stay. "Can't you see the capture spell?"

Arden laughed. Don't worry about it. I have a little surprise that will I think will break their concentration. The gleeful tone sent a shiver down Hecate's spine. As he approached the mages, both of them could see the webbing of magic that would arrest his dive and essentially trap him. He let out a long stream of flame that was easily deflected by the mages' shield before he pulled out. All three grunted with strain as they ran into the magic netting that had been cast to catch him. To Hecate's amazement, however, the strands dissolved into nothingness, allowing Arden to distance himself from the mages. She glanced back at the mountain and saw that Arden's promised distraction had apparently been to trigger a mudslide, though she couldn't figure out how, since the earlier rain had been far too brief to loosen the side of the mountain like that.

Once they were safely out of range, Hecate shouted, "Hey! How did you cause that slide?"

A low, rumbling chuckle rolled out of Arden's maw, thought they felt it more than they heard it. That wasn't a slide.

"Huh?" She took another look back at the small speck that had been a small army. "If it wasn't a mudslide, then what was it?"

I'm sure that if you put your mind to it, you can figure it out.

Hecate's mouth dropped open and she glanced back again before letting out a laugh. "You didn't!"

"He didn't what?" Sheila yelled against the wind.

"He took a dump on them," the ebony female replied, laughing. "He took a god damned dump on the bastards!"

"No shit?" Sheila asked in amazement.

Actually, there was a lot of it. More than enough to break the concentration of any mage, that's for sure. After all, who would expect a dragon to take a crap on them as he flew by?

The Imir shook her head and leaned close to Sheila. "Is he always this crazy?"

Sheila nodded. "You don't know the half of it," she said in a voice too low to be heard. "You don't even know the half of it."