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. Jack (c) David Hopkins. 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 20

"A short segue" or "I'll smell you later"

The water that had flooded the east bank of the Dancing Gods after the dragons splashed down slowly drained back into the river. From under the muck and mud a small mound heaved upwards then split apart to reveal a dwarf that had been buried by the flood. After taking a moment to scrape the mud off of his face and out of his eyes, the dwarf climbed slowly to his feet. He watched as bits and pieces of dragons and the supplies they had carried floated to the surface, and then drifted slowly down stream.

A wave of defeat sucked the strength from him, driving him to his knees as he watched the tumultuous surface of the river slowly settle back to its prior calm state and hide the lethal cluster of tentacles far below. His eyes drifted to the tree line on the far side of the river and a shock ran through him as he spotted both the bitch and her escort standing at the edge of the forest. Frantic, he scanned the skies to see if the witch was still around. A smile split the grime on his face when he spotted her. With some effort, he managed to dig out a small metal mirror and clean enough muck off of it so that it would reflect light. Using the sun and the mirror, he tried to signal to the receding rider, however he failed to get her attention. He hastily shoved the mirror back in his pocket as he looked back over towards the trees just in time to see the black, bat winged female turn and run into the forest.

He muttered a few choice curses as he stood and started to make his way north. As an afterthought he checked the leather strap around his neck and found that the compass the Witch had created was still intact. As he held it steady he was delighted to find that it pointing in the direction of the opposite shore, and the pointer was slowly moving north.

Breaking into a light jog, he hummed a tune to himself as he made for the forest on his side of the river. He still had a way to track the bitch down as well as a pocket full of summoning stones with which to secure her return. He had never failed to fulfill a contract, and wasn't going to start now. Once he had the bitch contained in a summoning stone, he'd renegotiate his deal with that bastard mage to cover his losses.

The hunt was still on.

In the remains of his tower the master of the painted mages tried to find a comfortable position as he leaned back in the chair behind a rather charred desk and propped his feet up. He was bloodied and wounded from the fight with the dragon spirits, but they had failed to kill him. His magic had been able to heal many of the minor wounds he had, however it couldn't repair the massive burns to his left side. Even now, the regenerative spells were working to heal him, but it would be weeks if not longer before he was back to full health.

"Cam!" he bellowed, then cursed as he remembered that his personal slave had been killed when the spirit wyrms had broken free of the summoning circle. "Tor!" he bellowed, wincing at the strain on his ribs. A gnome wearing an intricate collar ran into the room through a large hole in the bottom of the door.

"Yes, Master?" the small gnome asked, kneeling before his new owner. Standing just over a foot high, the miniature human had a beard and pointed hat, exactly as one would expect to see on a post card.

The mage shifted again, trying to find a comfortable way to rest his arm. "Get me a brandy. A large brandy." The terrified gnome quickly scrambled to find a way to fill his master's wish, since the remaining supply of liquor was well out of easy reach.

A chuckle from off to the mages' right where the wall was partially destroyed diverted his attention. "The mighty Sudal reduced to using a gnome for his personal slave." The tall, thin man who spoke leaned casually against the wall as he chewed on a spice stick. His bald head was covered in tattoos similar to that of Sudal, though they were of a completely different pattern. "Looks like you bit off more than you could chew."

Sudal frowned. "You're mighty brave today, Tomak. Thinking of trying to challenging me while I'm injured?"

The newcomer laughed and made his way to a chair next to the desk. "Quite the opposite," he replied while spinning the chair around and straddling it. "Even wounded like you are, I couldn't defeat you and we both know it."

"Then what do you want?" the elder sorcerer asked, squinting at his visitor. Tomak was far too confident right now. He had to be up to something.

"Me?" the young mage asked, feigning surprise. "I don't want anything. I'm just a messenger." He leaned forward and got an overly sympathetic look on his face. "I'm afraid that I'm the bearer of bad news."

"If you don't quit wasting my time, you're going to be the late bearer of bad news." Dropping his feet to the floor, Sudal winced as he sat straight up.

Tomak sat back and held his hands up for a second to calm the old mage down. "The council has met and held a vote."

"How the hell can they hold a vote without me?" Sudal demanded with a snarl. "Who the hell do they think they are?"

"It was a unanimous vote," the young man continued, ignoring the outburst, "and I do mean unanimous." Again he leaned forwards, all traces of his mocking tone gone. "You are to cease and desist in your actions concerning the vixen, the dragon and Hecate."

"Oh, I am, am I?" he snarled again as he stood. "And if I don't?"

"If you don't, they will confront you as one, Sudal." The young man stood and took a step back. "You may be able to defeat any of us alone, but you can't defeat the entire council if they move against you as a unified force."

Sudal stood, trembling with rage, staring at the other man as he fought the urge to destroy him right then and there. Finally he was able to spit out a single word. "Why?"

"Because the Prince of Darkness himself is involved."

The shock of the statement broke through his rage and was accompanied by the sound of shattering glass as the gnome dropped the decanter of brandy. Several times, his mouth worked as he started to speak, but each time he stopped. "Lucifer is involved? How? Why weren't we warned?"

Tomak shook his head. "As far as I can understand, there's a pretty serious power play going on in hell, and it involves her. She's a pawn in a game that's a hell of a lot bigger than just Earth Prime and Husaquahr. My sources won't give me any details, just that we need to butt out if we don't want to find our selves shoveling shit for eternity. "

Sudal dropped back into his chair, wincing but not really noticing the pain from his wounds. "That bastard Shovak," the sorcerer mumbled. "When I get my hands on that fucking daemon, I'm going to rip him a new asshole."

Tomak walked to the wall and paused before stepping through. "No more attempts, Sudal. The council….and hell," he added as an afterthought, "has spoken." He watched as the old mage nodded, speechless. The young mage then stepped through the hole in the wall and made his way down the corridor.

Back in the room, the sorcerer turned his chair to look out what had been a window at the distant horizon. "I may not be able to make any more attempts," he mused as he leaned back in the chair, "but that doesn't mean that I have to recall the dogs I've already set to the task." He glanced down at the gnome who shivered with fear as it held a large, half filled tumbler in two hands up for his master. Taking the drink, Sudal watched the play of light on the alcohol as he swirled it in the glass. "This may just be my ticket to the upper echelons of hell."

"Here's to a dragon hunt and bonuses promised," he said as a toast, then drained the glass.

The river parted as the head of a dwarf emerged, walking against the current along the east riverbed towards shore. Thumper's wet form reached the relatively dry grass by the side of the river, then bent forward and began to heave, emptying the contents of both his lungs and stomach. After several minutes, the pale dwarf stood up and wiped his mouth. Looking down at himself, he frowned. "Fucking dwarf. God, I hate dwarfs," the small man ranted angrily. "Stumpy legs, puny hands, pudgy fingers and generally all around pathetic."

He stood in the sun drip-drying for a little while, occasionally muttering a curse and shaking his head. Eventually he let out a sigh, turned and walked north along the forest, glancing occasionally towards the opposite bank. As he went, he took inventory of the contents of his pockets. Amongst all the items he had, the most interesting was a compass that hung around his neck. The pointer was aimed towards the forest on the opposite side of the river, ahead of his position and tip was slowly tracking upstream.

"Interesting," he commented to himself as he tucked the item back under his tunic. "Whelp, I better get it in gear or I'll never catch up with those two."

Whistling a light ditty, the Rathsmon tucked his hands in his pockets and started out on what he had no doubt would be a very long walk.