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 25

The eye of the storm.

Sheila managed to cross the distance from the entrance to her room without stomping, though she did slam the door closed behind her. She was half way through removing the katana's scabbard from the sash around her waste when she heard a knock at the door. "Who is it?" she asked, putting the sword back in her belt and keeping a ready hand on the hilt. The answer came by way of another knock on the door. Annoyed, she drew the wakazashi with her right hand while opening the door cautiously with her left. To her surprise, she saw nobody outside. Stepping out into the hall, she looked down the stairs and toward the far end of the rooms but saw nobody. Muttering a few choice expletives under her breath, she walked backing to the room while sheathing the sword, then locking the door behind her. As she turned to put the key on the nearby table she was surprised to see Mori lying on the bed. "How in hell did you get in here?"

"You just opened the door and let me in," he replied, fluffing the pillows under his head. "Nice bed. I'd forgotten how comfortable sleeping on a real bed could be. A person could get used to this."

"You know, that sounds like a good idea," Sheila replied, unlocking the door. "I'm sure they'll be glad to rent you a room of your own." She opened the door a bit and held it for him. "Now get out."

He swung his feet off the bed and stood in a single motion. "Maybe in a minute. First we need to talk." Pushing the door shut, he gave Sheila a patronizing smile while waving her to the bed. He leaned against the door as she sat on the bed and glared at him with her arms crossed. "Tomorrow, I'm going to get you out of here." He announced. "Be ready to leave first thing in the morning."

"Oh no!" the vixen stated standing up. "I'm not going anywhere with you. Hecate told me to stay here and that's what I'm going to do."

"Uh huh. She also told you to stay in the room, didn't she?" He stepped towards Sheila, forcing her to back up slightly. "In fact, I seriously doubt she told you to go wandering around town looking for a bath."

"Hey!" the vixen shouted, poking the clawed tip of a finger into his chest, "I'm an adult. I can make my own decisions and take care of myself. I never asked you to get involved and I'm sure as hell not going to do anything just because you say so."

Mori smacked his hand against his forehead. "Christ on a crutch, lady! Are you that fucking dense?" He paused to gather his thoughts while taking a deep breath. "You have a contract out for your capture. You know this for a fact since there have been two attempts already."

"How do I know you didn't set them up?" she demanded with a smug look. "You wouldn't be the first person to do that to me." Mori stared at her with his mouth hanging open in shock. Sheila sat down on the bed and leaned back against the pillows. "Hecate said I'm supposed to stay here, and I'm not moving until she comes back!"

He let out a long breath and nodded. "All right, if that's the way you want to play it. Just don't cry to me if someone snatches your furry ass while I'm not looking.

Sheila gave a nonchalant shrug. "Fine by me."

As Mori was about to close the door, he paused. "Don't forget to lock it." There was a quiet click as the latch took hold. Sheila quickly locked the door then climbed back on the bed. Rather than trying to go to sleep right away, she simply lay there, worrying about why the guy seemed so familiar.

= = = =

A loud knock at the door brought Sheila fully awake. She had been lounging in bed, watching the beams of light coming in through the shutters shift as the morning broke. She ponderously rolled over and sat up. "Who is it?"

"Hecate," the familiar voice came from the other side of the door. "Now let me in."

Sheila, still somewhat paranoid due to events of the prior evening, drew the wakazashi before unlocking the door.

When it opened, she saw the demoness standing on the other side. Hecate slipped in and closed the door, locking it behind her. "Get dressed quick. I want to take off before everyone wakes up."

"Why? What's the rush?" the vixen asked, sheathing the sword before getting dressed.

Hecate peeked out the window, watching activities in the streets. "I heard a couple of the local militia talking about two people being murdered last night at a bath. Apparently there was a foreign gold coin in the till that they think may have been paid by the killer." She turned from the window and looked toward Sheila. "They were also talking about a tub full of hair that they think came from some weird animal. Does that sound like anyone you know?" Sheila winced for a second as she heard the part about the hair. "That's what I thought. What happened?" the ebony woman demanded.

"You remember that guy who saved me in the woods the other night? Scar face?" She paused in tying the sash around her waste to make sure her companion nodded. "Well he showed up last night. Told me that there was a contract to abduct me and that they'd paid off the bathhouse attendant to drug my drink. He killed them, not me."

Hecate spat out a few choice curses. "What the hell were you doing at a bath house? Didn't I tell you to stay here?"

"Hey!" Sheila barked defensively. "I needed a serous bath, OK? Besides, all I have is his word that they were trying something. For all I know, they were just innocent bystanders whom he whacked just to get at me."

The look of surprise and shock on Hecate's face went unnoticed, as Sheila was busy slipping her swords into the belt. The demoness picked up the cloak and tossed it to Sheila before gathering up the gym bag. "Well, whatever happened, we don't want to hang around here. I've got the buggy out back so let's get moving."

Sheila put the robe on before unlocking the door. The two made their way quietly down the stairs. Hecate tugged on Sheila's robe and led her through the dining area and kitchen to a door leading out the back. Behind the building, Sheila saw their buggy parked and climbed in. The demoness went around to the back and opened the lid to the small storage trunk on the back. She was about to toss in the gym bag when she saw the small dwarf, lying inside on his back, smiling and waving at her. Frozen with indecision for a minute, the woman finally threw the bag at the dwarf, then dropped the lid as if nothing had happened. She then climbed into the front of the buggy and got them rolling down the alleyway, towards the edge of the city. After several nervous moments when they drove past several of the local militia who were wandering about, they came to the edge of town. Hecate urged the horse into a fast trot to get them away from town as quickly as possible.

Hidden under her hood, Sheila watched the town with interest as they made their escape. The one thing that she noticed most was the fact that none of the militia looked at all interested in anything going on. Shortly after they'd gotten out of town she quietly drew the katana and placed the tip squarely in the middle of Hecate's back. "All right, the game's over. How about telling me who you are and what's going on?"

Hecate stiffened at the touch of the tip, and then chuckled. "You figured it out, eh?" she said without an apparent worry. "That was a might bit quicker than I had expected."

"That doesn't answer my question," the angry vixen growled, shoving a little on the sword. "Now who the hell are you?"

"Gah!" the stranger cried out as the tip punctured her skin. There was a sizzling sound coming from the wound, as if the sword were read hot. "Take it easy with that pig sticker, will you?" The black color faded from her skin, as the body quickly shifted its shape to reveal Mori sitting in the front bench. "You know, if you're not careful, you could really hurt someone with that thing. So, what tipped you off?"

"It seemed just a little too convenient," Sheila stated, letting up on the pressure of the sword a little. "You were urging me to get away as soon as possible, then low and behold, Hecate, the one person I said I would go with, shows up. Not to mention this business about the militia. They weren't looking for anyone; just minding their own business."

"Pretty good," Mori agreed. "Only the general militia won't be the ones hunting you for murder. They have a special tracking squad that's does that kind of stuff. Fortunately, as long as you keep those fancy duds on, they shouldn't be able to locate you with magical means."

Sheila frowned and looked back towards town. "That's because all they'll need to do is go to the hotel, which is where you're going to take me right now." She twisted the tip a little to emphasize who was now the real driver.

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Sheila." Mori slowly shook his head. "Much as I'd like to, if I take you back there will be a lot more blood spilled. It's better this way. Besides, you want to get to Ruddygore don't you?"

"God damn it!" Sheila yelled. "I'm not going anywhere with you. Now turn this damn thing around and take me back to town!"

"I'm sorry," Mori said, quietly. "But there's no turning back now. If you want to return to town, you'll have to kill me." Sheila sat there, half leaning on the sword, ready to shove it through him, while the other half of her was shocked that she'd even think it. "What's the matter? Can't stab a someone in the back?"

"Shit!" the vixen barked, pulling the sword back and returning it to the scabbard. "You better not be fucking with me, asshole, or I will take you apart for real."

= = = = = =

Sheila had finally found a relatively comfortable way to lie on the bench seat by using her rolled up cloak like a pillow. It wasn't all that much better than sitting up, but at least she didn't feel the urge to take a piss every five minutes. She'd almost dozed off when she heard Mori call out to the horse while stopping the buggy. Her curiosity was piqued as she felt the buggy rock from his dismount. Sitting up, she looked around. "What's going on?" she asked, leaning on the back of the front bench.

"End of the road," Mori said, checking the horse and its harness. "This is where we catch the ferry across the river." He took a moment to look out over the river and to the shore on the far side, well over a mile away. "It looks like we'll be here for a while, so if you need to use the facilities, now would be a good time."

Grunting and groaning several times, Sheila managed to extract herself from the back of the buggy without having to ask for a hand. She stretched for a minute, trying to get rid of the stiffness from lying in one position too long. A glance at the local area showed the road didn't actually end here; it continued along the river. However, the fork they took off of the main road did terminate at a wooden doc that extended a short distance out into the water. Although there was a fair amount of low brush and the like, she didn't see any buildings. "What facilities?" she asked, already dreading the answer.

"Pick a bush." He looked around for a moment before returning to the horse. "Far as I can see, they're all unoccupied, though I could be mistaken."

"Great… and not a roll of paper in sight." Sheila shook her head and wandered off into the brush in search of a suitable place to relieve herself.

Mori casually walked around the back of the buggy, careful to make sure that the vixen wasn't paying close attention. He popped open the lid on the trunk and leaned against the lip and frowned at its occupant. "So that was you outside of the bathhouse last night, wasn't it?"

The dwarf adjusted the gym bag so he could lean on it. "Indeed. I was worried I might have trouble tracking you; however the former owner provided me with a compass that seems to be able to do the trick." He reached into his shirt and pulled out the small object he'd used to track them. "At first I thought it was tracking the female, but I couldn't figure out how they'd managed to get a lock on her. Once I saw you, it became obvious they were keyed on you. The opposition doesn't realize that you're the one they're tracking, do they?"

"No they don't," the man replied, checking to see that Sheila was still occupied. "As far as I can tell, the only magically active one is the female, and she's more of a toy master than a full spell caster. So far she hasn't been able to pierce my illusions."

Rathsmon nodded, deep in thought. "Mind if I ask a question?"

"Sure," Mori gave the dwarf a sly smile. "Just don't count on me answering it."

"Sheila doesn't know, does she?" the necromancer nodded in Sheila's general direction. "When are you planning on telling her?"

"Eventually, but not soon." Mori let out a long breath. "As Mori, I'm just another player in the game. She's got no history. If she knew I was Arden, then all that old baggage would get tossed into the mix. I had enough of her attitude when she knew who I was. With me as Mori, she's a lot less obnoxious."

"Oh, yes. Her attitude." The dwarf chewed on a thumb for a second. "I certainly hope you realize why she's being so difficult."

Mori nodded. "The spell?" He paused for the small nod from Rathsmon. "Yah, I know about it. In a way, it's partly my fault. It's not something I can handle, but it will be taken care of soon."

"Oh?" The look of surprise on the small man's face faded as he furiously thought. "You don't think Ruddygore is going to get rid of it, do you? I'm afraid that spell is beyond even his power."

The human pursed his lips and nodded slowly. "Yah, I know. I've already made arrangements with someone who can remove the enchantment. As soon as I've held up my end of the bargain, they'll hold up theirs." He glanced towards the bush. "She's done. Stay down and don't give away your presence. I'd have a hell of a time explaining who you are and how Mori know about you." Closing the lid, Mori dogged the catch and hurried around to the front of the carriage so as to be leaning casually against it when Sheila returned.

"You know," she said, sitting on the step to the buggy, "the only real advantage you guys have on us is the ability to take a piss standing up."

"Naw, I disagree," Mori said, half sitting and half leaning on the wheel. "We don't have to worry about getting pregnant."

"That's not an advantage," she grumbled with a frown. Bending sideways, she reached down and plucked a long straw of grass from the ground then stuck it into her mouth to chew on. "That was just my stupidity. I'm the only one to blame for," she paused gesturing at her enlarged abdomen, searching for a word, "this."

"Really?" He cocked an eyebrow at the vixen before also picking up a blade of grass and chewing on it. "So I suppose you had the guy chained to the bed, then? Last time I checked it was usually a cooperative effort."

"Oh no. No, he was cooperative if a little hesitant at the time." She leaned back and chewed on the grass for a few seconds before continuing. "He didn't know I was in heat. I'd told him I was on the pill so there wasn't anything to worry about. Sure, there were other ways I could have gotten around getting pregnant, but I didn't take them."

The grass spun as he chewed on it. "So you wanted his kid, but without him knowing about it?" Sheila simply nodded. Mori pursed his lips and shifted the grass around for a second as he thought. "Why not just tell the guy you wanted to have his kid? Why lie to him?"

Sheila looked down and shrugged. "It's kind of complicated."

"We have time," he stated flatly, glancing out at the river and still not seeing the ferry.

Sheila shot him a hard look for a second before frowning and looking away. There was a hard look on her face that softened as she spoke. "He had to go. The only reason he was staying around was because of something I had. Something he didn't know I had, but needed. If I'd told him that I'd wanted a kid by him, the big lug would have insisted on staying."

"And that's something I take it you didn't want?" he asked cautiously while squatting down to be at her level.

"Oh no," she replied, shaking her head and spitting out the grass. "No, I would have loved to have had him stay with me, even though he is a know-it-all and attracts more trouble than a ninety-percent-off sale at the Shoe Bazarre."

"So if you wanted him to stay, why not tell him?" He shook his head and laughed. "No wonder guys are going nuts trying to figure women out."

"It's not like that." She looked down at the end of the sash around her waist and began to twist it between her fingers. "He's on a quest. It's very important to him. If he stayed with me, he'd have to give up any hope of completing that quest, or ever getting home."

"Did it ever occur to you that if you had told him, he might have come back to you after completing the quest?" Mori shifted so he faced Sheila. "If this guy loved you as much as you're saying, don't you think he'd choose to come back to you rather than going home?"

"Maybe," her face got hard again, "but it doesn't matter." She stood up and brushed the grass and leaves off of her clothes. "The asshole is dead so it's a moot point." Her head snapped around as she heard a bark of laughter from Mori, who had also stood up. "What's so funny?"

"This guy of yours. He's on a quest, right?" There was a gleam in his eye as he gave her a big smile. It annoyed the hell out of the vixen. "Something of epic proportions, I assume?"

Sheila nodded. "I suppose you could say that."

He chuckled again and continued to chew on the blade of grass. "You obviously don't know anything about how things work here. This is a world ruled by magic. The only laws are those created by a council of sorcerers whose whims can become law with the stroke of a pen." He spat the grass out and wiped his mouth. "There are thousands and thousands of rules. They cover everything from what people have to wear to even the effects of gravity. There are even ones that are about quests, very special . Specifically there are rules that state anyone who's on an epic quest always has a way to cheat death. There may be a cost associated with it, but if he's willing to take the risk he'll be offered a way out." Reaching down, he picked up another blade of grass and started chewing on it. "Odds are, your boy is still alive." The confused look on the vixen's face made him chuckle. He turned and casually walked away from the carriage, taking in the fresh air and sunshine.