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 15

Pieces in motion

Sheila grinned at the sight and feel of the clouds as they skimmed the tops, occasionally trimming a puffy protrusion at its base. She squinted, not against the sunlight, but rather the intense wind that struck her face. The only drawbacks that she could find were the fact that it was cold air and there was no way to go to the bathroom in flight. The peak if the mountain lay far behind the fleeing trio and with it, any chance of a quick capture.

For an hour or so the dragon flew on, pumping his wings to maintain altitude and speed until they eventually broke past the cloud front. Below they could see the river valley that led from the misty mountains and High Pothique down eventually to the River of the Dancing Gods. They were now solidly within the borders of Hypboria, a country that neighbored both Marquewood and Valisandra, the home of Terinedell, where the sorcerer Ruddygore resided.

A quick look around verified that there wasn't anything else in the air near them that could possibly pose a threat. For the next few minutes Arden experimented with finding a comfortable way to glide while using a minimum of energy. Silently, with nothing more than the sound of the wind whipping by, the trio floated along a current of air as they followed the Ilmenbus river northeastward towards its joining point with the River of Sighs.

Staying low and hugging the neck of the dragon, Sheila did her best not to let the wind get the better of her. As she watched the panorama of land slowly scroll by, her thoughts were frequented by the horrific notion that it was a long way down if she were to fall off. She had no doubt that either Hecate or Arden would easily catch her if she were to fall, but that did nothing to quiete the screaming, gibbering voice in the back of her head that kept saying "You're going to FALL!"

The feeling of the dragon shifting under both the women caused them to grab on for a better hold as he banked to the left and began a wide turn. Hecate looked around to see if there was anything in the air that could be causing a problem. Failing that, she looked down and noticed they were circling a large farm. "Hey! What's up?" she yelled forwards to the dragon.

I need to land and rest, came the reply inside her head. The dragon continued his circle until he was lined up with a large, open area of ground near the barn. He leveled out his glide and put down his four legs to help slow down, stalling out at the last second to come to a slightly bumpy if gentle landing next to the building. Dipping his left wing, he allowed both females to climb down.

Hecate slid down the leathery surface, landing lightly on her feet after hopping off the edge. "So why land here? Why not find a cave somewhere?" she asked as she turned to help Sheila down from the wing's edge.

I also need food. They have some cattle here. He pulled open the large barn door and peeked inside at the mostly empty building. There were a couple of stalls for horses, and a large hayloft that ran round the sides of the upper level, but otherwise it was mostly empty. Pulling his wings in tight, Arden slipped through the doorway and proceeded to coil himself in the middle of the barn. With a little bit of shoving here and there to move piles of hay, he managed to get his entire enormous length inside the large barn. There wasn't really any room to stretch, but he could go outside if he felt the need for that. This will do nicely. Go to the owners and make the arrangements. Sheila has plenty of gold if you need it.

Sheila put her hands on her hips and scowled at the scaly beast. "Oh I do, do I? And just how do you know that?"

Arden chuckled as he closed his eyes. I'm a dragon, lady. I can smell the stuff.

She shot Hecate an inquiring glace to confirm the dragon's claim. Hecate smiled and nodded before turning and walking towards the house. Sheila shook her head and followed the winged Imir up to the door. Hecate rapped loudly on the door then listened for any movement in side. After a few moments, she rapped on it again and waiting. With no answer or signs of life, she pushed open the door and stepped inside.

"Do you think we should be doing this?" Sheila asked as she cautiously followed Hecate into the house while nervously looking about.

"We wouldn't have to do this," she replied then raised her voice to a shouting level, "if whoever lived here would have just answered the door." She continued into the house, checking into the rooms, verifying that they were empty.

Timidly, Sheila followed the Imir through the house. "How do you know anyone's home? Maybe they're all out doing chores."

"No," Hecate replied with a frown as they entered the kitchen. "They're here. I'm a tracker for a reason. I can smell them, just like your boyfriend outside can smell gold."

"He's not my boyfriend," the vixen replied tartly, "so quit saying that."

Hecate lifted the lid off of a pot of bubbling stew. "Yah, whatever," she replied before picking up a wooden spoon and taking a sip. She rolled the liquid around in her mouth for a second before digging around in one of her pouches and pulling out a few sprigs of herb, which she then stirred into the bubbling concoction before covering it back up.

Returning to the main living area, she sighed and looked around. "Now if I were some chicken livered, farmer, where would I hide?" Her eyes gazed around the room before settling on a rug with a wrinkle in it. Grasping one corner, she yanked the rug back revealing a trapdoor with a large iron ring into the top of it. "I'd hide in the basement, of course," she said to nobody in particular.

She grabbed the ring and heaved the thick wooden trapdoor open. Both the women could see a stairway leading down, under the house and into complete darkness. "All right. Whoever you are down there," Hecate shouted at the hole, "come on out now and I promise I won't hurt you." After a minute of waiting, Hecate scowled down at the hole and shouted again. "All right then. If you don't get your asses up here NOW, I swear that I'll cast a spell and turn you into slugs."

A few seconds later, they both heard the creaking of boards as someone cautiously made their way up the stairs. After a few moments, an older man's head with two hands held up appeared in the trapdoor. "Please don't hurt me. We'll give you anything you want. Just leave us alone," he pleaded to a scowling Hecate as he continued climbing out of the basement. Behind him, an older woman also made her way hastily up the stairs, followed by two boys.

Hecate shooed the four over to a corner before looking back downstairs and waited. After a minute she looked up at the man. "There are two more down there. Get them out here, now," she ordered in a flat, dangerous voice.

"Please," the man pleaded, "just take what you want and leave my family alone."

The demonic figure glanced down at the stairs before glaring at the man again. "Two virgin daughters. How interesting," she commented in the same, dangerous voice. "You know what they say about dragons and virgin women. Perhaps I won't turn them into slugs. Maybe I'll just feed him to our friend out there."

The man broke down and fell to his knees, crying. "Please! You can't do that. Please, I beg of you!"

"Then quit your blubbering and tell them to get their asses up here," Hecate ordered angrily.

The man shakily made his way to the stairs and called down for the two girls to come up. A minute later, two young women appeared, one in her teens the other just entering puberty. The father hastily gathered them to him and retreated back to where the rest of the family stood. "All, right," he said, standing between Hecate and the children, the young girl being held by her mother, "we're all here. Now please, just take what you want and go."

With one foot, Hecate flipped the trapdoor shut and crossed her arms. "Unfortunately it isn't going to be that easy," she replied casually as she swung a chair away from the table and sat down on it. "You see, we need a place to hole up overnight, and your farm is it. How much do you get for the cattle you have out there?"

The question threw the man off as he was expecting threats, not questions about his stock. He thought for a few seconds before replying, "They sell for five grains of gold in the market."

Hecate looked over to Sheila and held her hand out. "Give me the gold."

The vixen scowled at her companion before digging the pouch of gold out from around her neck and tossed it to the woman. "Don't spend it all in one place," she sarcastically commented as the Imir caught the sack of coins.

"Five grains each, "Hecate repeated as she started counting out coins. "Each of these is about 8 grains in weight," she stated as she counted out five coins and tossed them towards the man, who instinctively tried to catch them. "That's enough to pay for five of your cows as well as compensating you for any trouble from our stay." She yanked the cords on the bag, cinching the sack closed before tossing it back to the vixen. "That also pays for dinner for my friend and me. Sleeping accommodations won't be a problem since we'll bed down in the barn."

Sheila watched, slack jawed as Hecate stood and replaced the chair before turning her back on the family and heading for the door. "Is that it?" she asked incredulously, following the Imir. "You just throw some gold at them and tell them what we're doing? Aren't you worried about them sneaking off or doing something stupid like trying to kill us in the night?"

The demonic female stopped at the door, took one look at the terrified family and laughed. "Are you kidding?" she rhetorically asked the vixen. "They're scared shitless of us. They know damn good and well if they try anything the best that will happen is that the dragon will just eat them." She turned and gave the family a wicked smile that showed every sharp, pointy tooth she had. "At least they better hope he eats them." With that, she let out a disturbing laugh that sent shivers down Sheila's spine.

The vixen glanced back at the terrified family one last time before following the Imir out. As the two walked towards the cattle pens, Sheila tried to decide what was worse: The fact that they had just bullied a family into letting them stay the night, or that Hecate's threat may not have been an idle one.

Thomas sat beside Nanuk's fire, occasionally stirring the flames with a stick. He looked up at the polar bear who lay on the bed, and he sighed. "I don't know, Miss Nanuk. I don't feel right about going just yet." The look on his face was one of half pleading and half concern for his current mistress. "Who will take care of you when I'm gone?"

The old bear smiled, reached out and used her paw to ruffle the young fox's head-fur. "You have been a good caretaker, Thomas Livingston Bryant, and Nanuk is grateful for your service." She rolled over onto her back and got comfortable. "But you can no longer stay here. You must go."

"But, Nanuk, what if..." The young pup started, but was interrupted by the old female.

"No buts about it, Thomas. You know what will happen if you tarry here," she gave him a small smile. "You still have a destiny to follow. You must not loose sight of that." Both their heads turned towards the door as they sensed a new presence entering Nanuk's domain. "He has come, child. Now is the time for you to go."

Thomas reluctantly got to his feet and started towards the door. He got half way to it before he stopped and gave Nanuk a long look, then he rushed to her bed and gave her a hug. "I'll miss you, Miss Nanuk."

Nanuk hugged the child before giving him a quick kiss on the head, then she shoved him away. "Now go, my child. Your destiny awaits."

Half blinded by tears, he fled the hut and ran into the woods. Instinctively he knew where to find the creature he searched for. After a few seconds he came to a clearing where no snow fell, no tree or grass existed, no sound of life reached. All that was there, standing in the middle of an area of nothingness, was a tall, mangy-looking rabbit carrying a scythe. Thomas wiped the tears from his eyes as he approached the rabbit, stopping just before he crossed the line between Nanuk's realm and the nothingness. "So I guess this is it?" he asked timidly.

The rabbit nodded. "Come, Thomas," he said, holding out his hand. "We have a tight schedule if this is to happen. If you miss your chance, I will have to deliver you to your ultimate reward."

Thomas looked over his shoulder to the small hut and the curl of smoke that rose from it, then he took the rabbit's hand and stepped into the circle. "I'm ready," he said, refusing to look back as the two walked into the nothingness, leaving Nanuk's domain for good.

The life of a slave wasn't as bad as some people thought. As long as you kept your master happy, and didn't get caught goofing off, then being the personal attendant for the master of the Painted Mages had its advantages. His master was currently involved in a summoning. Afterwards, he'd want to have some brandy, a cigar and to soak his feet while having his calves massaged. It was Cam's job to see that everything was ready by the time his master was finished with the resurrection of his son. Such a summoning would take hours giving Cam plenty of time to make sure his master's chambers were in order.

Using the key that was spelled to work only for him, Cam opened the door and carried the bucket of hot water into the room before closing the door. He turned towards his master's desk and dropped the bucket in surprise, spilling the scalding hot water all over himself, though he barely noticed. His master stood, looking out a window while smoking a cigar. "Master," he said, quickly, dropping painfully to his knees and bowing his head. "I did not expect the summoning to be completed already. I'm sorry for my failure and am ready for my punishment." Not hearing a response, Cam looked up to see his master take a drag from the cigar and exhaling. "Master?" he asked, concerned at the lack of response.

The bald necromancer turned and looked at his servant with eyes that didn't quite take in all they saw. "That's all right, Cam," he said before walking to the large padded chair and sitting down. Leaning back into the padded chair, he tilted it until it was at a forty-five degree angle.

Cam stood and hesitantly approached the necromancer. "Is everything all right, Master?" he asked with genuine concern. His master hadn't been the kindest of people, however he was far better than many of the other magicians who took great delight in making life a living horror for the slaves.

"No, Cam, it isn't," he replied, studying the smoldering end of his cigar as he rolled it in his fingers. "The resurrection was a failure."

"But…" The boy was astonished by the news. "But how?" he asked. His master had never failed before.

The mage's head snapped around to scowl at the young slave before angrily snubbing out the cigar. "Because there was no soul to resurrect," he snarled. "Whoever or whatever killed him utterly destroyed his soul." Cam dropped to his knees in a reflex reaction to the harsh voice of his master and shivered at the thought of his wrath. "Get up, Cam," the man ordered. "You've made a mess. Clean it up then bring me some brandy. Bring me lots and lots of brandy." The man leaned back in his chair, then swiveled it around to look out the window. "And don't stop pouring until I pass out."

Cam hastily gathered up the bucket then opened the door. Before he could leave, the voice of his master stopped him. "Cam?"

"Yes, Master?" he replied after several attempts to swallow his heart, which had tried to leap out of his chest through his throat.

"Send for the Wyrm Lords."