Story (c) 2000-2003 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 27

Undesirable secrets shall, whenever possible, be made known at an inopportune time. - Book of Rules, V153 s113(d)

Sheila sat at the makeup table, staring into the mirror. She wasn't really seeing her reflection. Instead she was haunted by the events of the prior night. Shaking her head to break free of the memory, she took a good look at herself in the mirror. The silks were as bright and colorful as always. Oddly enough, she'd gotten used to seeing herself with the swords tucked into her side that it felt wrong to be without them. Reaching around behind her head, she untied the leather strap that held her hair in a loose ponytail. Slowly, she worked the mass of hair out with her fingers, frowning at the image. "I look like some kind of unkempt, mangy mutt you'd see on the street around here," she grumbled picking up a brush from the table. Mechanically she began to brush her hair out, fighting with the tangles that had inevitably managed to make themselves at home.

"Are you hungry yet?" Mori's voice asked from the door. He watched as her head snapped around to look at him before turning back. The look she'd given him wasn't encouraging. "You need to eat something before we go," he commented, walking over by the table. "You are eating for two, remember? You really should eat something."

"I'm not hungry," came the vixen's terse reply as she struggled with a knot, trying to ignore him.

"Here," he said, reaching for the brush, "let me give you a hand with that."

Sheila stood and moved quickly away from him. "I don't need any help from you. In fact, I don't need anything from you. Why don't you run off and find someone to kill and leave me alone."

The man's scarred face scowled at her. "Take it easy, lady. I was just trying to be helpful."

"I don't want your help," she spat back, her fists clenched in anger. "I don't want to have anything to do with a… a…monster like you!"

Mori turned away for a minute and hung his head before looking back. "I never wanted you to see that. You have to believe me. I tried to warn you."

"I'm glad I saw it," she snarled at him. "Otherwise I wouldn't have known what you really are, a murderer!"

Anger flared in his eyes as he snarled at her, "They deserved what they got and don't you ever think any differently." The words had a surreal force behind them as if she could feel his anger. "I'm not the monster here, they were!"

"Those children didn't deserve to die!" She shouted, throwing the silver hairbrush at him. He twitched his head to the side allowing it to fly by, smashing into the mirror. "You murdered them and for all I know, you're going to murder me, too!"

He stormed across the room towards her, his face a mask of rage. In defense, Sheila drew the wakazashi and held it out, keeping him at length. "I told you already, I did the best I could for them. Their souls would have been forfeit if I hadn't done what I did."

"So you say," she replied with a low growl.

Mori glared at her for the better part of a minute before regaining his composure. "There's food on the table in the main room. I'm going to go hitch up the buggy and get it loaded. We'll be leaving in an hour. I suggest that you get yourself ready to go."

"I'm not going anywhere with you," she stated, keeping the tip of the sword pointed at him.

"Oh?" he asked, his face now an unreadable mask. His right hand shot up, grabbing the blade around the top and preventing her from moving the tip more than an inch in any direction. "Understand this. You're coming with me if I have to pick you up by the scruff of your neck and carry you. If need be, I'll hogtie you in the back of the buggy." He stepped past the tip of the blade so that he was looking down at her, a scant few inches separating their faces. "Have I made myself clear?"

For the first time since meeting him, Sheila felt an all-encompassing fear penetrating the ever-present anger and resentment she felt. She gave a microscopic nod and said, "Perfectly."

"Good," he replied, releasing the sword. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." He turned and walked towards the door without an apparent second thought to the sword that Sheila still held.

She watched him leave the room, torn between the terror she felt and the anger that was goading her into using the sword. A full five minutes after he'd left, she shakily managed to put the sword back into the scabbard before sitting down again in front of the mirror. She looked at her distorted image in the broken mirror, the crisscrossed spider web lines of the shattered glass giving a surreal image in return, and she wondered again just what the hell she'd gotten herself into.

Mori carried half a dozen large, leather sacks from the main house out to the buggy that he'd parked in front of the house. Each of the bags clinked with the sounds of coins as he dropped them at the rear of the buggy. Picking them up one at a time, he spent several seconds casting a spell on them, before placing them into the luggage compartment. After placing the last bag in the buggy, he returned inside to find Sheila sitting at the table, mechanically eating some meat, cheese and bread.

He walked passed the table, making sure to go around the far end, entered the study and went down the stairs in the center of the floor to the cellar. The earthen basement under the house was unlit, but that didn't bother him. He made his way to the large vault that stood open, its door wrenched from the hinges and leaning against the far wall. Inside he picked up the last bags of gold and carried them up. The stairs leading to the study groaned at the weight, threatening to buckle and snap, but managed to survive his passage. Once outside, he again repeated the spell on all but one bag. The last bag he took over to the wagons, which the survivors of the town were loading up with clothes, some furniture, keepsakes and whatever valuables they could scrounge.

Approaching the lead wagon he walked up to the man who was tying down some furniture so it wouldn't shift. "Here", Mori said, hefting the bag into the wagon, which lurched at the sudden addition of weight, "there's over five hundred gold coins in there. That, combined with whatever you take, should give you a good head start on buying some land and building a homestead."

"Wow," the man replied, opening the top to look at the gold. "Where did that come from?"

"The mayor's vault," Mori replied. "He was hording the money he claimed that you people had to pay in tribute."

"If that's true, then where's the rest of it?" came a young man's voice. Mori turned to see the mayor's son. "That money belongs to us, so where is it?"

"That money is forfeit along with everything else in this town, including their lives," he replied turning to face the young man fully. "Of course, if you think you can take it away from me, you're welcome to take your best shot." He drew the glowing, black sword from his back and casually rest the blade on his shoulder. "Assuming you want to join your father and the rest of the people from this town."

The raw emotions of rage and hate were there for anyone to see in the boy's eyes. For an instant it looked like he might actually try to jump the man, but the moment passed. "No," he replied looking down. "There's no way I could defeat you."

"Smart kid," Mori rhetorically replied. He turned back to the man, "Make sure you take everything you want. There won't be anything left of this place after you leave."

The man nervously looked around and swallowed before nodding. "We'll be done and ready to go in about fifteen minutes."

Mori gave the kid one last glance before returning to the buggy. He opened the luggage compartment and scooped out a hand full of gold and began to pop the coins into his mouth the way a person eats peanuts, chewing on them briefly before swallowing them. Occasionally he'd reach back in and pull out another handful, eating them as he watched the remnants of the town finish loading up their wagons. He gave them a brief nod as the two wagons rolled towards the town gates and beyond with the children in back of the wagons, watching their only home as they left it for the last time.

Once they were out of sight, he turned and entered the house looking for Sheila. She was sitting again in front of the mirror, staring at it. "You ready to go?" Slowly, the vixen turned and looked at Mori then back at the mirror. "If you want, go ahead and take the brush and stuff. It's not like anyone will ever come back for it."

Sheila stood and picked up one of the silver candlesticks that sat on the table and walked over to Mori. "You lying bastard," she said before hitting him in the face with it, dropping him to the ground.

"What the hell was that for?" he snarled at her, holding the side of his face as he stood backup. "Where do you get off hitting me?" he demanded with a snarl.

Rather than be intimidated by him, she stood her ground. "You lying sack of shit," she replied. "All this time, you've been feeding me a line of bull and now you dare to stand there and ask why I hit you?"

"What?" His anger changed to that of confusion. "What the hell are you talking about? I haven't lied to you!"

"Oh yah?" the vixen replied calmly. "Then what's your name?"

"My name?" The question took him back. "You know what my name is."

She nodded and tossed the candlestick away. "Sure I do, Arden," she replied, emphasizing his name. "I couldn't understand where I'd seen you before until I looked in the mirror." She turned and walked back over and sat down in front of the shattered mirror. "I was just staring at myself in the mirror when it hit me, I'd seen your face every day when I looked in the mirror. I'd worn that body. I just couldn't recognize it for the scars." She reached out and traced one of the cracks, leaving a small trail of blood behind. "Until I saw this." She turned and glowered at him. "You fucking bastard. Where do you get off lying to me about who you were?"

"I didn't lie," he answered sitting down on the bed. "Mori's the name I went by for years when I was in Japan. It was my public cover."

"This isn't Japan, damn it!" she yelled back at him. "All that crap you fed me on the road about being on this quest to save your lover from a spell. That was all bullshit and you know it."

"No it isn't," he replied in a quiet voice looking down at the ground. "It's true. Every word of it's true, Sheila." He looked up at her with tired, haunted eyes. "You're under a spell that's making you more angry and full of rage and hate every day."

Now it was Sheila's turn to be confused. "Bullshit! What spell?"

"Remember when I told you that my wish had an aspect of it that made you love me?" He watched for a nod from her. "It was unfair to you. I wanted you to love me for me, not because of a spell. The spell created a link between us so that any emotions would be reflected back as love. It's why even though we argued there was something always driving us to make up."

"Are you serious?" the vixen asked, leaning forward slightly. "You're not screwing with me, are you?"

Arden shook his head. "No, I'm not. I swear to God as my witness that this is the truth."

"I don't understand, if this spell is supposed to make me love you, why is it making me so god damn angry all the time?" The confusion in her voice was beginning to give way to the rage again. "What the fuck did you do?" she demanded.

"It's not what I did. It's what Lucifer did," he replied somewhat sheepishly. "He came to me shortly after we'd switched bodies and told me about the spell. He wanted to screw up Lakash's plans. Breaking the spell would do that. If you were truly destined to be mine, then love would win out. It wasn't fair to make you love me because of a spell, so I agreed to have him break it."

"That doesn't explain why I feel like I'm on permanent PMS here," she snarled under her breath. "If he broke it, then there shouldn't be a problem."

"No. There wouldn't be a problem if he removed the spell," he paused to let that sink in. "What he did was to break the spell, as in alter its functionality so that it no longer worked as a love spell. Instead, it worked to try and split us apart."

"Great! You stupid idiotic moron!" She stood and stamped over to where her bag was and picked it up. "You of all people trust the fucking lord of lies to do you a favor and not screw you over in the process. Some god damned guardian you turned out to be."

"I'm not a guardian, damn it!" He shouted as he stood, causing her to flinch. "I was never trained to be a guardian. My entire life has been about killing people. Do you understand what I'm saying?" He walked up and grabbed the front of her silks. "My job has been to look people in the eye as I stick the knife in. Up close or at two thousand yards, my job is to kill people, not guard them." He let go of her clothes. "Not until now anyway." The anger drained as the weight of all the events crashed down on him at once. "That's why I couldn't save Bjorn. That's why I couldn't do anything as long as I had to protect you. I didn't know how, and frankly, I'm not all that much better now." He looked at her with pained eyes. "I'm trying the best I can, all right? That's all I can do."

Sheila studied him for a long moment as a storm of conflicting emotions raged within her. Finally she nodded to him. "All right, I think I can deal with it. "She let out a long sigh and rubbed the bridge of her muzzle. "At least now I know why I've been so damned moody." She frowned at him and growled, "The least you could have done was told me before now."

"Like you told me about being in heat?" He replied, his voice devoid of any sarcasm or venom.

The vixen winced and nodded. "Touché." She shook her head and glanced over at the broken mirror. "Let's hope that crap about seven years bad luck isn't for real." Turning from the mirror, she made her way to the buggy.

"Like it could get any worse?" He asked as he followed her out of the room.