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 22

Good help is hard to find

The rhythmic sound of the horse's hooves probably would have put Hecate to sleep if it hadn't been for the way the carriage tended to bounce every time it hit a rock or a hole in the road. Streamers of early morning light were beginning to filter their way down through the heavy canopy of leaves that covered the road. One glance at the scrawny horse sent a small wave of anger through her as she remembered dealing with the stable master. Once she'd returned to town and dumped the dog at the local hotel, that stable master was going to learn the error of his ways.

Her train of thought was broken by a small electric tingle she felt on her chest. Reaching inside her tunic, she pulled out a large, thin cream-colored medallion. As she watched, a symbol appeared on the surface, only to fade a way after a moment to quickly be followed by another. Soon the stream of symbols began to repeat. She ran her finger around the edge of the medallion, causing it to turn bronze in color then scratched a symbol onto the surface and watched it fade. Once it was gone completely, she ran her finger around the edge again, returning it to its original cream color.

After tucking the medallion back into her tunic she glanced over her shoulder at Sheila who was curled up on the rear bench, asleep. A small smile crossed the elfin face as she chuckled and turned back around to watch the road. She had been unable to calm the vixen down for most of the night. Finally, near morning, she'd given up and flown to town to rent a buggy from the local stables. Unfortunately her day hadn't gotten any better at that point. The owner of the stables was annoyed at being roused before dawn and refused to rent the horse and buggy, insisting instead that the elf pay for it. Hecate had been dreading the ride back to town with a bitchy vixen sitting next to her, but her luck had finally turned as she had found Sheila sound asleep by the small fire. Getting her into the buggy had been a bit of a challenge; however she had fallen asleep almost as soon as she sprawled out on the seat, leaving Hecate with a quiet and relaxing ride back to town.

Propping a foot up on the railing for support, the elf slouched on the bench slightly and watched the mosaic of light as it played through the leaves. The message she had received on the medallion was disturbing. It would also put a crimp in her plans, though not enough to seriously delay them. At least she hoped not. The first thing she'd have to do would be to get the vixen tucked away in the inn. Then she'd be able to deal with the problem over on earth prime.

In a small, run down house near the fishing docks, the female dwarf witch sat at a table topped with several candles, vials, powders, the odd dish or two and a couple of fine brushes. She paused for a second and examined the vial in front of her. The dark blue color of the liquid inside showed that the seal created by the cork was airtight. Taking a brush from the table, she dipped the tip in one of the small bowls then carefully drained off the excess dye. Very carefully she inscribed on the vial a series of glyphs and rules of power that would preserve the contents until the seal was broken. Once the vial was marked, she placed it in a holder for the ink to dry. Setting the brush back down on the table, she leaned back and stretched her arms over her head. "Don't you think it's about time you stopped lurking around back there? I'd like to get this business settled as fast as possible." She dropped her arms and turned towards the shadows at the far end of the room.

A think, dusky man in black silently slipped from the shadows. "How did you know I was back there?" he inquired as he took a seat opposite the dwarf.

"Oh, you were quiet enough," she readily admitted, then picked up another vial along with a brush and began to draw symbols on it. "But you broke two trip strands I had set up to watch for your approach." She glanced up at him and snorted. "I'd also get a refund for whoever sold you those glyphs of misdirection, hiding and distraction."

The man looked down at the ornate amulet he wore around his neck and sighed. "And he came with such a good recommendation, too." The man removed the amulet and dropped it into his pocket. "Are you almost done with the potions?"

"Two more," she replied slowly as she finished a rather intricate glyph, "then we let them dry. After that, they're all yours." She glanced up at him again. "You're clear about our bargain?"

He nodded to the witch. "I find this fox bitch that you want, drug her and bring her to you. In return I get to keep the unused potions as payment."

The witch finished off the vial with a small flourish and placed it in the rack next to the others, then picked up the last one. "Exactly. The potion is only viable for fifteen minutes once you open it, then it will become inert and undetectable. You must make sure that it's mixed into whatever the target drinks, and that they consumes it within that time frame."

He picked up one of the completed vials and watched as the glyphs slowly faded from sight, leaving a slightly etched look to the surface where it had been painted. "How long will it take for the potion to knock her out?"

"Within minutes," the witch stated, placing the final vial in the holder. "The effects will last for anywhere from an hour to over a day depending on how much of it the target drinks."

Replacing the vial into the rack, he lifted them and carefully stood up, ensuring he didn't disturb the writing. "Excellent. If you're correct and the bitch is in the town, I'll hear about it. I should have her for you within the next day or two."

"Remember," the woman grumbled in a dangerous tone, "if you are caught, I didn't make those for you, and if you try to rat me out I'll make sure you live whatever's left of your short life in a great deal of pain."

"You wound me," the man replied, placing his hand over his heart. "I'm a professional. I would never betray the confidentiality of my clients."

Her eyes narrowed into a thin line matching that of her lips. "See that you don't."

Hecate reached around behind her with the horsewhip and lightly gave Sheila's feet a couple of whacks, waking the sleepy vixen. "Hey!" she objected, pulling her legs up to avoid further abuse to her feet. "What the hell did you do that for?"

"We're almost to town," the elf replied turning back around towards the front.

Sheila sat up and ran a hand through her hair. "So what? Would it have killed you to let me sleep until we got to the hotel?" Her mouth stretched open as she yawned, showing a muzzle full of sharp fangs and teeth. "Hey!" she spat as a heavy robe hit her in the face.

"Put that on," Hecate directed without looking back. "I need to have you fully covered with the hood up."

"Yah, yah. Whatever," the vixen muttered as she unfolded the robe and then proceeded to put it on. Once she got the belt tied off, she pulled the hood up over her head and immediately growled. "How the hell am I supposed to see anything out of this? The opening in the hood is like a foot from my face!"

The Imir laughed. "That's the point, lady. If you can't see others' faces, then they can't see yours, and especially not that long snout of yours."

"This damn fabric also makes my ears itch," she complained, rubbing her ears through the fabric. "I'm going to go nuts if I have to wear this for very long."

Hecate sighed and counted to ten. "You won't have to wear it for long. We're almost to the hotel. Once we're inside, I'll get you up to our room where you can loose the robe and go back to sleep, ok?"

The vixen continued to scratch various body parts through the heavy robe. "Whatever."

A few minutes later Hecate stopped in front of a large, three story building. "This is it," she announced climbing down out of the buggy.

Sheila made her way down out of the rear of the carriage then paused to lift up the end of the hood and look at the building. "It's not much to look at," she commented as Hecate took her arm to lead her in.

"As the case may be," the now fair haired and skinned elf replied, "It's conveniently close to the edge of town, the rooms are decently sized and they've got a kitchen that will send food up to the room if we ask for it." Slowly she led the vixen up the stairs and into the inn. Inside, there was a young man sweeping the floors. "Hey, boy!" she called to the young man, getting his attention. "Take our horse and buggy down to the stables and have them cared for."

The young man frowned at the elf. "I ain't your boy, long ears," he griped, spitting on the floor. "You want your horse taken care of, do it your own damn self."

Hecate snarled and waved a hand in his direction, sending him flying against the wall where he hung, pinned to its surface spread-eagle. She then led Sheila up to the room that she had rented on her earlier trip into town. The room was at the head of the stairs immediately to the left. Off to the right, a balcony ran the length of the building to a second set of stairs that went up to the third floor. Along the balcony there were ten other rooms, with an eleventh on the opposite end of the balcony facing theirs. Using the key she'd gotten earlier, Hecate led Sheila inside and lit the oil lamp to illuminate the room. "Here you go. I think you'll find this to be a welcome change."

Sheila hastily undid the belt of her robe and shucked the heavy material, tossing it over the arm of a chair as she looked around. "Oh my god," she exclaimed with a grin. "This looks like something out of the old west!" In the room there was a large four-post bed with a hanging canopy. Against one wall was a wood chest of drawers with an ornate mirror hanging above it, a washbasin and large pitcher of water sitting on top. Two chairs and a small table sat over by the window. There was also a small armoire to hang clothes in against the wall with the chest of drawers. Sheila walked over to the bed and probed it with her hands. "This can't be real," she said as she half collapsed and half jumped onto the bed and resting on her back. "A real fucking bed! I'd almost forgotten what one felt like!"

"Right," the elf replied, making an intricate hand motion over the windows before she closed the drapes. "I think you'll be comfortable here while I go take care of business. We should only be in town for a day or two then we'll no doubt be able to make good time with that horse and buggy since you won't have to walk.

"Day or two," the vixen mumbled already half asleep. "Yah, I could do with a day or two of this. Take your time." She waved a limp-wristed hand in Hecate's general direction, then rolled over and curled up into a ball before falling quickly asleep.

Hecate dropped the spare key to the room on the dresser and put out the lamp before making her way out to the balcony. She chuckled as she locked the door thinking, "Damn, if I'd known that getting her into a decent bed would shut her up, I would have summoned one up on the trail." Down the stairs she saw the innkeeper worriedly wringing his hands at the sight of the boy on the wall. She sighed and walked over to the kid. "You ready to reconsider your smart-ass attitude, Junior?"

"Kiss my ass, long ears," he spat back. "I ain't afraid of you. You screw with me and my uncle will take you apart."

Hecate cocked a brow at the innkeeper. "I hope he isn't referring to you."

The innkeeper frowned. "No. He's talking about my brother," the man said angrily. "He's a ranking sorcerer, so I wouldn't suggest you screw with him. Now release the boy!"

"Let's get something straight here, breeder," she hissed in a quiet, dangerous voice that carried unspoken threats. "I'm not afraid of any sorcerer below the rank of council member, and unless you and this walking sack of shit you call a son want to spend the rest of your life with your faces looking like horse manure, I suggest that both of you keep your 'long ear' comments to yourself." She turned to the kid and snapped a finger, dropping him to the floor. "As for you, if you don't get your ass in gear NOW I'm going to remove you from the breading pool in such a way it's going to take more than just a 'ranking sorcerer' to put you right. Do you understand me?"

The kid snarled and glanced over at his father who gave a brief nod. He muttered, "Bitch," under his breath, then went outside to take care of the horse and buggy. His father stood his ground, glaring at the elf. "I don't care who you are, lady. You don't come in here and order me or my boy around. I suggest that you check your attitude at the door if you intend to stay here."

"For the rate I'm paying, you and your boy should be kissing my elfin ass," she replied stepping up to the man and invading his personal space. "I'm a very easy going person, but when the hired help start thinking that they're better than the person with the gold, I think it's time to put things in perspective. Now let me reiterate. My friend upstairs is to be kept happy no matter what she wants. If I come back and find out that you've given her a hard time, or anything's happened to upset her, I'm going to lay a curse on you and this flea bitten hotel that will make sure that even swamp rats won't want to move in. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yah, you've made your self clear," the man replied, not flinching at her intimidation tactics.

"Good," Hecate smiled and reached into a pocket on her vest pulling out a couple of gold coins. "Here, this will cover any tab she wants to run. Give the kid two silver for dealing with the horses. I have some errands to run." She handed the coins to the man and walked out the building, feeling his eyes burning a hole in her back the entire way.

"Humans can be so damn irritating sometimes," she though as she paused on the steps, "I wonder what kind of piss-ant mage he's got for a brother? Guess I'll find out soon enough."