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.Mary the Mouse © Mary Minch. 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 32

A mouse in the worxx.

Arden sat next to the fire, nursing it as he listened to the pouring rain. Occasionally he'd look out and a bright flash of lightning, which was soon be followed by the booming thunder and then a whimper from Sheila, as she cowered in fear from the storm. He glanced up at the tarp that was stretched out over the fire as it snapped in the wind and nodded, satisfied that the lines anchoring the tarp were secure and that the branch wasn't in any danger of snapping. As he watched, smoke rose from the fire to coil in the apex of the makeshift tent, only to quickly roll towards the higher end of the canvas and escape into the nite.

"I hate thunderstorms," the vixen whined as she huddled under the blanket, only her nose poking out from the mass of cloth. "Can't you make it stop?"

"Yes, I could" the man replied, putting another couple of thin sticks on the fire, "but that would give away our position. There are hunters about. They know we came this way, but so far my wards have kept them at bay."

Flinching as another flash of light was immediately followed by a crash of thunder, Sheila managed to hunch into a smaller ball under the blankets. "But what if lightening strikes the tree? We're right under it."

Arden let out a low chuckle. "Don't worry about it. I've warded the tree. No lightening will hit it or any of the trees around us." He reached over, lifted the mass of cloth so he could see her face. "Trust me. This storm isn't dangerous to us, OK?"

"Well… OK," the vixen replied, slipping the blankets down from her head so they rested on her shoulders. "But if I get struck by lightening, I'm gonna kill you."

This time, he let out a full bark of laughter, not just a chuckle. "It's a deal." His head swiveled towards the forest as if searching for something. He then stood up and walked to the edge of the tarp. "I'll be right back. I want to get some more wood for the fire." Moving silently, he quickly disappeared into the rain.

Sheila looked down at the large stockpile of wood that would easily last the night and frowned, wondering what the real reason was for his late night excursion.

Mary the Mouse

To say that Mary was wet would be an understatement. She was absolutely soaked to the bone. Add that to the fact that she'd been wandering around lost in the woods for hours and you had someone who was absolutely miserable. What little clothing she wore, a blue t-shirt, a long, black wool coat and sword around her waist, squished as she made her way through the maze of trees in the dark. The diminutive female stood only three foot, eight inches tall, which for a human might be small, but for her species was quite tall, for you see Mary was a mouse. Gray fur with light tan coloring on her chest and feet, Mary looked like any other small mouse you'd find in a field, only she stood upright on a pair of dog-legged knees, with only a silver hoop through her left ear and a tattered daisy tucked behind the other for decoration.

Each time there was a flash of lightening, she'd freeze and study the afterimage in her eyes, looking for some sort of shelter and then, once the image had faded, she'd move again. After repeating this sequence of actions innumerable times, she paused, not for a stroke of lightning, but for a flicker of flame that she saw through the forest. Cautiously she made her way to the edge of the clearing where she saw a makeshift tent that had been constructed by draping a large tarp over a tree limb and then anchoring the corners with stakes to the ground. Under the tent she saw what appeared to be a fox huddling under a large blanket or piece of cloth as it sat next to the fire. Behind it, a large, hollow log rested which it used for a backrest. Nearby were more blankets folded on the ground and a large pile of firewood. She also spotted a couple of sacks sitting on the ground, one next to the fox and another part way around the fire.

Shivering from the rain, she studied the scene for a moment before glancing around to see if there was anyone else watching. The only movement she saw was from a horse that was tied up near a buggy with its own makeshift tent protecting it from the rain.

Cold, wet and tired, she shook her self off as well as she could and stepped away from the trees. Mindful of where she stepped, she made her way over towards the tent. When she was about eight feet from the tent, a bright flash of lightning illuminated the area, followed a few seconds by a clap of thunder. The fox by the fire looked up and gasped at the sight of the mouse. It threw back the blankets and struggled to its feet while drawing a short sword. It was then that Mary realized that the fox was female and pregnant. The distended belly obviously made it hard for the vixen to move. Before Mary could react, she caught a glimpse of motion out of the corner of her eye just before the edge of a blade lightly touched her throat. Turning only her eyes, she saw a tall human with a long, slightly curved sword, watching her with guarded eyes as the rain fell around them.

"All right," the man commented, not moving the sword. "Who are you, and why are you here?"

Mary wanted to swallow, but didn't dare for fear of the blade against her throat. "I-" she squeaked once before clearing her throat. "I'm Mary," she replied, finding her proper voice. "I was lost and was looking for shelter. I spotted your fire and… well… I guess I was hoping you wouldn't mind sharing it."

"Lost, huh," the man replied, staring down at here. A fresh flash of lightning illuminated his face, revealing eyes that were solid black, as if they had been replace by obsidian orbs. "I guess that would explain how you got past my wards."

The vixen, having gotten a good look at the mouse put her sword away. "Good lord, girl," she said, stepping up to the edge of the tent. "You're soaked to the bone. Come on over here next to the fire and let's get you dried out."

"Damn it, Sheila," the man rumbled, risking a glance at the vixen. "We don't know anything about her. She might be a bounty hunter." He looked back down at the mouse, "just looking pitiful to gain a target's confidence."

"Please," the mouse pleaded, looking up at the man. "I'm just lost. Really. I've been wandering these woods for hours looking for some kind of decent shelter, only none of the trees are any good for stopping the rain."

"Come on, Arden," the vixen chimed in again with a slightly whining voice. "Look at the poor thing. She's shivering from the cold. You don't really think she's a danger, do you?"

The man grunted in disgust. "Only one way to make sure," he replied, waving his hand in a pattern as he cast a spell on the mouse. Once he'd finished, he withdrew his sword and sheathed it. "All right. I've put a spell on you that will prevent you from taking action against us in any way." He turned and walked back under the tent past the vixen and sat down by a large, open sack.

Mary looked down at herself as if to see if there had been any physical change from his magic. "You cast a spell on me?" She asked looking back up at the man who was occupied with chewing on something. "Are you some kind of sorcerer or a wizard?"

"Actually, he's an asshole," Sheila said, stepping out in the rain long enough to take the mouse by the arm and draw her under the tent. "Trust me, if you ignore him, you'll probably be better off for it." The vixen looked down at Mary and tisked. "You're soaked to the bone, girl. You had better slip out of those wet things and dry off next to the fire."

A crack of thunder shook the tent as lightening strobbed overhead. "Take them off?" Mary parroted, glancing over at the man who was casually watching the pair.

"Just ignore him," the vixen repeated, handing the mouse a blanket. "Trust me, he's nothing to worry about. If you're concerned about your modesty, you can wrap yourself up in this blanket.

Mary nodded and then turned around, dropping the blanket by the log. Removing her coat and shirt, she draped them over the log, trying to keep them out of the dirt. She then wrapped the blanket around herself and sat down by the fire, savoring the heat as it slowly soaked into her fur, drying her.

"Are you hungry?" Sheila asked, reaching to pick up the bag near her blankets. Sitting down next to the mouse, she removed a large wedge of cheese and a half a loaf of bread from the bag, along with a flask of water. "It's not gourmet dining, but it should help hit the spot."

"Thank you," Mary said in a small voice, accepting the food. She hungrily took a bite of the bread and chewed on it as she softened it with some water.

The man swallowed whatever he was chewing on and nodded at the mouse. "So what were you doing wandering around in the forest at night during a lightning storm?"

The small female swallowed the bread and shrugged. "Like I said, I was lost…"

"Yah, we got that part," the man rudely interrupted, waving a hand in her direction. "Why were you wandering around the forest? Were you part of a group that got split up?"

"Oh," Mary mumbled, understanding what he wanted to know. "Well, actually I was running away from someone, someone bad." She looked around nervously between the two and shrugged again.

"It's all right," Sheila said by way of encouragement as she gave the mouse's shoulder a squeeze. "Nobody can harm you as long as Arden's here."

"You don't understand," the mouse replied, looking down at the fire. "He's the ruler of these lands and very, very powerful."

Arden nodded. "I take it you're referring to Cheyanne?" A peal of thunder split the night as lightning flashed from cloud to cloud while the horse winnied in dismay. He took Mary's sudden startled look as an acknowledgement. "Yah, she's a nasty customer all right. Probably the strongest non-human in all of Husquahar."

"You know about her?" Sheila asked, staring in disbelief at him.

He nodded again. "Yah, I've heard about her," he grudgingly admitted. "She's one of the people I was worried might decide to come after you. She's as bad as they come and then some."

"Yah, but you can take her, right?" the vixen asked with a quirky smile. "I mean, you're this bad-assed sorcerer, now, that can do anything, right?'

Slowly he shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Not her, anyway. You see, she has a destiny," he explained, stirring the fire with a stick, "and by the rules which govern this reality, she's untouchable until that destiny is fulfilled." He tossed the stick onto the fire and leaned back against the log. "I could probably fight her to a standstill, but I doubt I'd be able to face her down. The rules wouldn't allow it."

"Destiny," the mouse whispered. "I wonder…"

"What was that?" the vixen prompted, her sharp ears picking up the whisper.

The mouse looked up rather startled that she had been overheard. "Umm. I was just thinking about destiny," she replied. "I wonder what it's like to know you have a destiny."

"Ask Testaclease over there," the vixen replied, taking a strip of jerky out of the bag and ripping off a chunk. "His destiny is the reason I'm in this mess."

She looked over at the man and studied him carefully. "You have a destiny?" she asked, curious to hear his story.

"Yah," he grumbled glancing at the vixen before looking back at the mouse. "From before I was even born, they were planning my destiny. My glorious destiny," he spat the words as he threw another small stick into the fire. "I had to loose my home, my life, everything that I valued," he paused to look at the vixen and then turned to the fire, "including the woman I loved. All so that I could become a tool for the celestial host, letting them screw over one of their number without breaking their precious rules. As a reward I'll probably just be cast aside, assuming they don't just destroy me outright."

"That's horrible," she replied, her brow furrowed as she thought about it. "Are all such destinies doomed to be a tragedy?"

Arden's face lifted as he stared off into space, as if seeing something far away. "All epic quests resulting in a fulfilled destiny shall require great sacrifices by those involved, up to, but not necessarily their life in the fulfillment of said destiny." He focused back on the mouse and nodded. "The book of rules, volume eight, page one-twenty-three, paragraph nine, subsection b. As pertaining to quests and destinies."

"Jesus," Sheila muttered after swallowing the jerky. "Every time you rattle that crap off it sounds like something you'd hear in the tax code."

Mary smiled at the comment and took a drink of water. She looked over at the vixen and studied her as she tore off another chunk of meat. "What about you? What destiny do you have?'

"My destiny?" Sheila echoed with a laugh. "My destiny…" She paused and thought about it for a moment before nodding. "I guess you could say that my destiny is to be the sidekick, kind of like Bat and Robin. Robin was always getting into trouble and Bat would have to bail him out." She took a swig of water and wiped her mouth off on the sleeve of her shirt. "That's me. I keep getting into trouble and the Lone Stranger over there has to keep rescuing me."

"I see," the mouse replied with a smile, glancing between the two as the sound of distant thunder rumbled by. "From the way you argue, I'd think that that the two of you were in love rather than just sidekicks."

Sheila let out a lout bark of laughter that sprayed water on the fire. "Us? In love?" she derided the though with a laugh as she wiped her muzzle on her sleeve. Glancing over at Arden she saw the pained look on his face. All traces of humor left her as she watched him for a moment before looking away. "Yah, in a way I guess you could say that." She took another drink from her water flask and then looked back over at the mouse. "So, what about you? What's with your destiny?"

"My destiny?" Mary blinked at the thought and shook her head. "I don't know, though I guess I may have one." She nodded to Arden, "You said you'd lost everything you valued. I guess I've had the same thing happen. I was kidnapped and brought here. I have no clue how to get home. I've lost my best friend as well as the mouse I love." She glanced over at Sheila for a second. "I guess you could even say that I've betrayed him." She took in a deep breath and let out a sorrowful sigh. "I don't know if I have a destiny or not. Right now, I'm just trying to figure out how to undo the wrong I did."

Arden nodded as he chewed on a coin and then swallowed. "Well, I wouldn't worry about that right now. That's for tomorrow. Right now, I suggest that you two get some sleep. Morning will come quickly and I think you'll be needing what sleep you can get."

Mary thought about it, then took the cheese and bread and replaced them in the bag. She hugged the blanket closer to her as she lay down next to the fire. As she lay there, she watched the flames, wondering if she'd be able to find Nino and redeem herself to him.

The loud hiss of sap escaping from fresh wood that had been tossed on the low fire terminated in a loud pop that startled the mouse fully awake. Disoriented by coming out of a dream so quickly, she panicked at the feeling of an arm around her. Rolling away from the arm, she looked back at the pregnant vixen who had snuggled up to her in the night. A few seconds later, the evening's events flooded back into her awareness and she looked around. The man was still sitting by the fire, stirring it with a stick. He didn't look like he had slept at all, not that he looked tired.

"Didn't you sleep?" she asked the man, getting up to recover her clothing. A quick check of the shirt showed that it was pretty much dry. Slipping it over her head, she then picked up her coat and sword before turning back around to face the man.

"He never sleeps," came the drowsy voice of the vixen as she stretched out on the ground. Sitting up, she shook her head and smiled at the mouse. "Apparently dragons don't need much sleep."

"That's not true," Arden replied, tossing a couple of sticks onto the fire. "We require plenty of sleep. The only difference is that we sleep for weeks or even months at a time, conversely we can stay awake for similar stretches."

Mary paused with one arm in her coat. "You're a dragon?" she asked in disbelief, not sure if the two were pulling her leg.

The man smiled, put one finger to his nose and exhaled, sending a gout of flame into the fire. "Does that answer your question?"

"Ignore him," Sheila grunted as she clambered to her feet. "He's just showing off. Besides, he's not a real dragon. He's just using its body." She looked at the confused mouse and laughed. "It's a long story. The short of it is that he died, had his soul stuck into a gem at which point I used a magic dagger to inject it into a dragon allowing him to take control of its body. He's just using his magic to look human. In reality, he's humongous."

Mary stood frozen through the entire explanation, then slowly finished putting her jacket on. "Oh…kay, "she said, drawing the word out. "Well, I'd like to thank you for the fire and the food. I really appreciate it." Taking her sword belt, she slipped it around the bottom of her shirt and buckled it.

"No problem," the vixen replied, picking up a small bag. "Here, I've put some cheese, bread and water in here for you." She waved off the mouse's objections. "We have plenty, really. Please, take it."

Mary accepted the bag and tied it to her belt. "Thank you very much. I appreciate your hospitality immensely."

"Before you go," Arden said, standing up and walking over to the mouse, "there's something I have for you." He knelt down by the mouse and held out a string with a stone tied to it. "While you were sleeping, I did some research. You do have a destiny, Mary, and it's an important one. I can't tell you what it is, but I can give you this." He held the string and dangled the stone, allowing it to turn. Slowly it rotated and pointed in a southeasterly direction. "This stone will help guide your way. Twice a day, if you hold it up like this, it will help you find the proper path. I can't say where it leads you, but if you trust in it, it will guide you well."

The mouse hesitantly reached out and took the string from his hand. She watched the stone as it continued to point in the same direction. She then wrapped the string around it and put it in the bag at her belt. "I don't know what to say," she squeaked in a small voice, "except, maybe, thank you again."

"That's more than enough," he replied standing up again. "Safe journeys to you."

"Thank you," Mary said, looking taking the vixen's hands and looking up at her. "I won't forget either of you." She glanced back and forth between the two before letting go.

Sheila smiled as she watched the mouse scamper away in the general direction the stone had pointed. The touch of Arden's hand on her shoulder as he stood next to her made her look up at him. For a moment she was tempted to shrug him off and pull away, but changed her mind. "You think she'll be OK?" she asked, looking back towards where the mouse had disappeared.

"Yah. For the first time since this damn thing started, I'm assured of a good outcome for someone." He looked down at Sheila and gave her shoulder a squeeze. "How about you, Tonto? You gonna be OK?"

The vixen elbowed him in the ribs. "Only if I manage to take a piss before my bladder explodes!" Pulling away from him, she hobbled over to a nearby cluster of bushes, franticly untying her pants and complaining, "God damn it, why couldn't you have used a button and zipper instead of these damn laces!"