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.
Sheila leaned heavily against a tree. "I've got to stop and rest again." She held onto a small branch as she leaned forward slightly, propping herself up with her other hand against her knee. After a few seconds, she straightened up and then stretched her back while rubbing the base of her spine with her paws. "If I don't, my back's going to give out," she complained to her companion.
"Go ahead and grab a seat on that rock. We're going to wait here for a while anyway," Hecate replied as she stepped away from the vixen and looked around.
The vixen plopped herself down on a large rock with a grunt and groaned. "God, my feet are killing me. How much farther do we have to go?"
Hecate finished surveying the surrounding area and walked back over to where the vixen sat. "It's half a day's walk to the ferry where we can cross," she replied, sitting down next to Sheila. Another groan from the pregnant vixen prompted her to continue. "Don't worry. I've no doubt a wagon will be along soon. We'll be able to hire someone to give us a lift."
Sheila looked up and took in their immediate surroundings for the first time. Hecate had led them to a wagon trail through the woods. "Um, not to question your competence, but do you really think we're going to be able to get a ride?" She cocked an ear and an eyebrow in the elf's direction and gave a small shake of her head. "Even if one does, will it be safe? Neither one of us will be hard to recognize."
"No problem," the Imir responded, standing again. She grabbed the edges of her wings and rapped them around herself like a cloak. Closing her eyes, her shape shifted somewhat as Sheila watched. The black leather wings rippled and changed, taking on the appearance of an ordinary brown riding cloak. Hecate's shape also shifted so that rather than showing her true half demonic form, she resembled a fair skinned elf maiden, similar to what one would have expected from a Tolkien novel. Opening her eyes, she gave the vixen a pleasant smile. "See, nobody will ever recognize me."
"That's all nice and well for you, but what about me?" She waived her hands over the cured silk outfit that she wore, resting one hand in a sword. "This getup isn't going to make me very inconspicuous, and that's not to take into account the fact that I don't look human." She cocked her head to one side and gave a half smile. "Not unless you're planning on using that little trick on me."
Hecate shook her head. "Nope. I'm afraid that it's not safe to use that kind of magic on you while you're pregnant. It could have some rather ." She bit her lip for a moment trying to think of the word and then continued, "undesirable side effects on the unborn."
'Right, so how are you going to hide my identity?" Sheila demanded, crossing her arms.
"No problem," the elf replied, again sitting down next to her traveling companion. "This road is used primarily by traders. No doubt whoever comes by will have goods for sale. We'll get you a large traveling cloak to cover that outfit and your head as well as a pair of boots for your feet. That should make you anonymous enough for now."
"That's assuming we can even get them to stop," she replied, now massaging one foot with the other.
Hecate laughed. "Oh, they'll stop all right." She gave the vixen a smile that sent a shiver down her back. "Ve haf vays uff makhing dem shtop."
"PETERSON!" The shout originated from a small, glassed in room that looked out over the main squad room. Detective Peterson winced at the shrill voice. He took a deep breath before making his way over to the office. "Yes, Captain?" The black man behind the desk looked up and glared at detective Peterson. His eyes gave the impression of someone who was perpetually tired and aggravated. His close-cropped salt and pepper hair perched above a face that had seen a fair amount of punishment while its owner was on the street.
"God damn it, Peterson! Where the hell is that Jacobs kid you were supposed to be bringing in? " The captain glanced down at his watch before shooting Peterson another hard look. "It's been over three hours since I sent you out to pickup the little shit! Why are you still hanging around here?"
Peterson did his best not to flinch. He was used to his bosses tirades, but that didn't make the volume any lower and they tended to leave his ears ringing. "I talked to the kid," he replied causing his boss's eyebrows to rise, "and I don't think he has anything to do with it."
His boss blinked a few times as he digested what was just said. "You don't think he had anything to do with it?" the man asked quietly. A large, ham sized fist slammed down on the solid wooden desk, causing most of the items on top to bounce around for a few seconds. "What the hell do you mean, he had nothing to do with it?" His face flushed dark purple as he stood up. "We've got his god damn clothes at the crime scene. We have people who saw him and the victims together the night before. Just how in God's name do you figure he didn't have anything to do with it?"
This time Peterson couldn't help but flinch this time. "I dunno, boss," he replied with a weak shrug. "I just don't feel this kid did it."
"You-don't-feel?" The words were spaced out in such a way that they almost had a physical impact. "Are you off your God damn rocker, Peterson?" The captain glanced past Peterson and into the squad room, then yelled, "JACKSON! In here NOW!" A blond detective in kakis and a polo shirt stepped into the small room and paused. One glance at the captain and the other detective in the room made him take a step away from his co-worker. "Jackson. I want you and Peterson to go track down that Jacobs kid and bring his ass in here NOW!"
Jackson glanced at Peterson then back to his boss. "Sure thing, Captain," he replied before grabbing Peterson and dragging him out of the office. "What the hell's going on, Dick? Since when do you need help picking up some punk kid?"
Peterson shook his head as he grabbed his coat from the back of his desk chair. "I don't know, Gunter. I don't know why, but I'm convinced this kid didn't do it."
"Are you nuts?" the blond man whispered as they made their way past a couple of uniformed cops in the hallway. "We've got this kid dead to rights. There's no doubt he's the one responsible."
"I know, I know " the older detective replied, pausing in the hall to rub his forehead. "Something in my head keeps telling me that he's not the one."
"If it's not him, then who?" his partner demanded. "Come on, Dick! Think about it. Some students saw Tank and the others with the kid after school. We've got his tire tracks at the scene of the crime plus some of his clothes. What more proof do you need?"
"That's what I keep telling myself, but it just doesn't register." Dick gave his head a quick shake. "It's like there's this voice screaming in the back of my head, arguing with me every time I think about it."
"It ain't for us to decide if he's innocent or guilty," Peterson responded, taking the older detective by the arm and leading him down the hall. "It's our job to bring him in and let the courts figure it out."
Dick gave his head another quick shake then shrugged off his partner's hand. "Right. No more screwing around. Let's go pick the kid up and then we'll worry about it."
"Wait up!" Sheila called out to the slender elf she had been following. Putting one hand on a large rock, she turned and sat gently down on it. "I can't go any farther."
Hecate paused and looked back at the pregnant vixen that sat on a rock and was using one foot to massage the other. Letting out a sigh, she glanced around and took note of their situation. After not seeing any wagons for the better part of the day, they had decided to hoof it to town only the ferry was farther down the road than Hecate had initially thought. That or all these delays to give her ward a break made it seem like the trip was going to take forever. "All right. Go ahead and rest a bit." She took a quick look at the sky before shaking her head. "It's going to get dark soon. We should find a place off the side of the road where we can set up camp for the night."
"Great," the vixen replied with a sarcastic snarl. "You go find a good place for us to camp and I'll just sit here and see if I can keep my feet from trying to explode."
Pursing her lips, Hecate glowered at the vixen, biting off a caustic remark before it could escape. "The bitch is worth a lot of money," she thought, "Kill her and it'll all be for nothing." That same refrain ran through her head repeatedly as she turned to look for a suitable camping spot. About ten minutes later, she returned to the vixen who was leaning against a tree with both hands under her swollen belly. "All right. I've found us a good place," she informed her companion in a flat voice. "Assuming you can manage another twenty five or so yards."
"Hey!" Sheila snapped, groaning as she forced herself to her feet. "I'm not the one who's been saying 'Just a little further' for the last three hours!"
"No," the elf replied, putting both hands on her hips. "You're the one saying 'I need to stop' every five minutes for a fifteen minute break!"
"Fine!" Sheila yelled. "We'll make camp, then in the morning you can go get a buggy to come and pick me up!"
"With what?" Hecate snapped. "Just how much gold do you think I have?"
Sheila reached inside her top and pulled out the remainder of the gold Arden had gotten for her Kimono and threw it at Hecate. "There. That should be more than enough to rent a horse and buggy."
The elf hefted the bag. Though it only held a third of its original contents, it still had a considerable amount of gold. Reaching in, she took out one of the coins and smelled it. By reflex, she wrinkled her nose at the odd scent before taking a good look at it. It wasn't from any kingdom or province that she'd ever seen. A quick bite on it confirmed by the taste that it wasn't a gold that was native to Husaquahr.
"That's real gold," Sheila growled, misinterpreting Hecate's actions. "I wouldn't try to pass off phony gold."
"It's not that," Hecate replied in a distracted tone as she looked at other coinage in the pouch, "This stuff has an odd flavor to it. It's not from Husaquahr and any money changer with talent is going to know that."
Leaning against a tree, the vixen gave her companion a confused look. "Yah, so?"
"So," Hecate replied, digging out half a dozen of the gold coins, "that makes this stuff rare, which mean's it's worth more." She cinched the sack closed and tossed it back to the vixen. "I'll bet the money changers have been paying you straight up, haven't they?"
Sheila's ears wilted as she nodded. "Yah, they have." It had never occurred to her that the coinage might be more valuable than just its value as raw gold.
Hecate tucked the cash into a small pocket inside of her belt. "Don't sweat it," she replied giving the vixen a hand. "Live and learn. In the morning, I'll go get a buggy and give both our feet a rest."
Myron stormed away from the Big Bun Burger Barn with both fists clenched. He'd taken enough crap from his boss for a lifetime, and didn't need to take any more. Besides, it wasn't like he needed that stupid job anyway. It was just a way to pick up a little extra cash, something that Mom or Dad would give him if he asked.
Exiting the food court, he started to make his way down the mall towards where he'd parked when he spotted the cop who'd tried to arrest him, and it didn't look like the cop was on a shopping trip. About the same time, the cop spotted him. Flipping back the corner of his coat, the cop put his hand on the grip of his pistol. Myron turned to head towards the other end of the mall, but there was another cop coming from that direction, although that one didn't appear to have spotted him.
Panicking, Myron looked around and saw one of the access corridors that were used to move trash and supplies between the different retailers. He bolted towards the door, slamming his way through it. Behind him, he could her the cops shouting something between themselves, then the tap and squeak of shoes on the tiles as someone pursued him. Dodging down the minor maze of the back halls, Myron hit the outside door with enough force to snap the restraining chain and smash the knob into the outer brick wall of the building. A quick leap down from the loading dock was the only thing to slow his flight as he stretched his long legs and started pumping them for distance.
"What the hell happened?" he thought as he dodged a car in the parking lot. "Whatever I did to that cop must have only been temporary. That or he was just yanking my chain." As the cars thinned out towards the outer edge of the parking lot, he glanced over to see the two cops in hot pursuit. They weren't closing, but neither was he opening up any distance between them. One of them even looked like he was talking into a small radio.
Coming to the edge of the parking lot, Myron stopped next to a large, enclosed bus stop as traffic sped by. He turned to run down the sidewalk but a yell stopped him. "FREEZE!"
He put his hands up and turned around to see both cops gasping for breath and pointing guns at him. "Wait a.." he started to say, but was interrupted by the older cop.
"Shut up!" the man yelled, almost sounding enraged. Closing on the boy, the man held his service revolver with both hands. "Just shut the fuck up!"
"Ok" Myron said, and flinched when the cop cocked his gun.
"No! Not a fucking syllable, do you hear me?" The cop screamed with a wild look to his eye. People in the enclosed bus stop stared at what was happening.
"Jesus, Dick!" the younger detective said in a horse voice. "Calm down, man."
"No!" the man replied. "He's dangerous. You don't understand." He took a couple of stuttered steps forwards and growled. "He's got to be stopped."
Myron swallowed as he watched the unhinged cop close on him with what appeared murderous intent. Unconsciously he took a step backwards only to find that he had stepped off the curb. His arms windmilled as he fell backwards onto the hot asphalt. Before anyone could move, the bark of air brakes along with the hoarse screeching and stuttering of large sliding tires filled the air. Myron's head snapped towards the huge, heavily loaded dump truck that was trying to stop, but obviously wouldn't make it in time. Both detectives watched helplessly as the truck skidded over the helpless boy and stopped several yards past. More tire sqeelling followed as first a full sized car skidded into the back of the dump truck, and then a pickup truck rear-ended the car. More tires screeched, but the other drivers managed to avoid the accident.
"Aw, shit!" Peterson spat as he ran up to the road. Looking down where the boy had been, he couldn't see any signs of him. Kneeling, he got a clear view under the dump truck, and he still couldn't see anything. About that time the driver of the truck came around the front, babbling. "Oh my god! I couldn't stop, man! He just stepped out in front of me! It wasn't my fault! I couldn't stop!"
Dick came up next to his partner and stared down at the rubber skid marks and the lack of blood or anything else to indicate the truck had hit someone. "Where did he go?"
Myron cowered on the ground with his hands over his head for a few seconds until he realized that the truck didn't hit him. Sitting up, he looked around. Everything looked like it was in a black and white movie. "What the hell?" he asked, standing up. A crowd had gathered around the accident scene, and the cops were searching the area, looking for something.
"What the hell, am I dead?" Reaching out, he tried to touch the truck, but his hand passed right through it. The same thing happened when he tried to touch the people. "Oh man, " he said, shaking with a sudden feeling of cold, "I'm dead." His curiosity got the better of him, and he began to search around for his body. At least he'd be able to see how he went out. After a few minutes of futile searching, he scratched his head trying to figure out what was going on.
About that time he saw something go zipping across the parking lot, flying just above head level. It wouldn't have attracted his attention, except it had a yellow glow and left a kind of contrail behind it. Setting off at a run, Myron chased after the small object, barely keeping up with it. It took a little bit to get used to, but he quickly adapted to the idea of being able to run through just about anything, though he did have to worry about stumbling because of terrain. The first fall was a painful one that taught him a quick lesson about watching his feet as well as the creature he was chasing. It also convinced him that he wasn't dead, after all you shouldn't skin your hands and bleed if you're dead, right?
Eventually he made his way to one of the larger parks in town. He had lost track of his quarry, but the occasional glimmer of gold floating in the air gave him a trail to follow. Making his way through the dense wooded area he came upon an opening where he saw something that made him freeze in his tracks. Nestled in the trees, linking them together across the limbs and branches was a small city filled with four-inch high creatures that fluttered about. Stunned at the sight, he just stood there, staring until a shrill scream broke the trance.
Sheila lay on her back with her feet propped up on a log. She'd been relaxing like that for the last five minutes while Hecate was out rounding up some good firewood, and her feet were almost beginning to feel normal. The snap of a twig made her look around. "Back already?" She froze as the tip of a sword came down over her snout to stop next to her neck. From above her head a medium sized human stepped forward, the sword held casually in one hand. His dusky complexion combined with the mottled, dark clothes, made him difficult to see without the light from a campfire.
"You must be the bitch," he said with a chuckle. "Tracking you down wasn't nearly as difficult as I was told. Now why don't you be a good little doggy and get rid of those nasty swords." The man watched as she picked up each of the three weapons that lay next to her and flung them away. "Good," he complimented as he removed the sword from her throat. "Nice to see that you can follow directions. Now stand up. We've got a bit of walking to do."
Sheila was about to roll over when the sound of a meaty thwack startled her. A spray of hot liquid that covered her followed the gurgling sound that came from the man. He jerked twice and fell backwards to the ground. Sheila rolled towards the swords, snatching one from its scabbard as she tried to climb to her feet. "Who's there?" she demanded, spinning around at any sound. "What do you want?"
"Put the sword away, Sheila," a deep voice said. Sheila spun towards another man this time a tall one wearing nothing but a sleeveless shirt, some kind of bandoleer over his shoulder, a kilt and roman style sandals. In his right hand he held a huge sword that looked like it was something out of a video game. The other held a small ball of light that cast an eerie glow over him. She could see that his face and arms were covered with scars. It looked like some time in the distant past someone or something had flayed long strips of skin from his body. His long, salt and pepper hair was tied off in the back with a simple leather strap to keep it out of his face. The only other thing that Sheila noticed was the piercing grey eyes that almost glowed with an inner light. As she watched, he took the sword and stabbed the body at his feet through the heart. For a moment, the sword glowed a deep purple color that resembled a black light.
"Who are you?" Sheila asked, holding her sword in both hands the way she had been taught, but secretly wishing Hecate were there to deal with this guy.
"Who I am is of no importance," he replied, looking around. "Where's the demon?"
"Demon?" Sheila backed up a little, wanting to distance herself from not only the man with the sword, but the corpse that lay at his feet. "What demon?"
The man frowned at her for a moment. "The one you've been traveling with. Where is she?"
"Oh, her," the vixen looked around wondering the same thing. "She's getting some firewood. No doubt she'll be back any second, so I wouldn't try anything if I were you."
"Getting firewood?" He echoed incredulously. "Damn sloppy way to guard someone." He swung the sword up and over his left shoulder, at which point she heard a click. When his hand came away, the sword remained on his back.
Now that he'd put the sword away, Sheila relaxed a little, though she still kept the tip of her katana pointed directly at the man. "That may be, but it still doesn't tell me who you are."
"It wasn't supposed to. " He bent and lifted the corpse by its belt, holding it to the side. "Tell her there's a bounty on both your heads; you alive and her dead."
The light vanished leaving Sheila momentarily blinded. By the time her night sight returned, there was no sign of the guy. Sheila sat on the log she had been propping her feet up on, her sword still in hand, and stayed there until Hecate returned.
"Sorry I took so long. Hard to find any decent wood," the Imir explained while dumping a majority of it in the rock circle. The burst of flames was a welcome sight, driving the shadows well back to the tree line. Hecate finished arranging the logs in the fire, then stood up while clapping her hands to get rid of any bark and soil. The smile on her face disappeared once she spotted Sheila. "What the hell happened here?"
"Oh, nothing much," the vixen replied after a few seconds of awkward silence. "Some guy tried to kidnap me, then some other guy came out of nowhere and killed him, took the body and left."
Hecate made her way around the fire to stand near the vixen, but not too close. "I guess that would explain why you're covered in blood."
"Yep," came the terse reply.
"Umm," the elf squatted down so she was eye to eye with the vixen. "How about taking those off so we can get you cleaned up?"
"Can't?" the elf echoed, cocking an eyebrow at Sheila.
"Yep," the vixen replied, sticking to monosyllabic answers. "Not that I didn't try, mind you. It's just that this damn armor won't let me take it off."
Hecate cocked an eyebrow at her companion. "What happens when you try?"
Sheila shrugged. "I just can't. As much as I want to get out of this damn thing, it won't let me. It's like I'm fighting my own body for control if I try to take it off." She closed her eyes for a moment and let out a long breath. "That asshole, Arden is responsible for this too. I just know it. Bastard!"
"Hey, it's OK." Hecate took the sword from Sheila and put it back in the scabbard that lay at their feet. "No sweat. We don't need to get you out of the armor to clean you up. I can do that with a simple cantrip." The Imir made a couple of gestures in Sheila's direction, removing the blood that had splattered in her hair and on her face. She then tried to do the same thing to the armor, but suddenly found herself sitting flat on her butt next to the fire. The armor had reacted to her spell. "What the hell?"
Sheila looked down at the bloodstained armor and pursed her lips. "Perfect. Just fucking perfect," she commented aloud. "If ever there was a time when I really need a bath, and here I'm trapped by my own clothes---and it's all that asshole's fault." She looked up at Hecate with eyes that sent a cold chill down the elf's back. "If he isn't dead now, he will be next time I see him."