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 36

Things that go bump in the night.

Sheila lay on the bed with her head on the pillow and the Japanese dagger tucked in close by her side. She watched as the flame on the candle that sat next to the bed burned and occasionally flickered, its orange tongue dancing lightly as it slowly consumed the wax. Her hand shifted down to her swollen belly as she felt the child within her kicking, and smiled. Having children hadn't really been a highpoint in the grand scheme of things as far as she was concerned, and she still wasn't too thrilled with the idea, but it was slowly growing on her. She wondered if she'd turn into one of those mothers who'd hand their kid a lunch as she sent them on their way to school, or if she'd be more like her mother, someone who'd not given a damn about either her or Tammy and was happy to be rid of them when, in their teens, they left home to run with a pack.

A smile slowly made its appearance as she thought back to the days when she and Tammy had been carefree. It had seemed like a never-ending summer vacation, but that was just an illusion. The pack had trespassed into territory controlled by a pack of jackals one too many times and there'd been hell to pay. Tammy and Sheila had been lucky to get out of that fight relatively unscathed, though most of their friends hadn't. It had been a harsh lesson in the realities of life, but one she'd not soon forgotten. With their pack mostly dead and the few stragglers left scattered to the four winds, Sheila and Tammy had hitched their way to the big city in hopes of hooking up with another pack that might take them in. After two weeks of kicking around on the street they were about to give up when they'd met Melissa, one of the girls who'd worked for Zig Zag at that time. It was one of the best moves of her life, and one she'd never regretted. The thought of Zig Zag and the rest of the crew brought another smile to her face, though it was a wistful one. Chuckling quietly to herself she wondered what Zig Zag would say once she found out she was pregnant. It certainly would be the last thing anyone at the studio would ever have expected.

The sudden loud crack startled the vixen out of her reverie. "That sounded like lightning," she muttered to herself. Swinging her legs off the bed she sat up, protectively clutching the dagger in her hands as she did so. Ears cocked and sweeping like small, furry radar antenna, she listened to the stark silence for a hint of some danger. Again there was the crack of lightning, though it was without the usual rumble you'd hear during a storm. Instead this sounded more like the low snap of an angry spark, amplified a thousand times. A second later, the sound of a tremendous explosion made her unconsciously flinch as the walls of the room shook and dust fell from the ceiling. Not long after she heard the sound of objects bouncing off the roof above her.

Using the bedpost for leverage, she hauled herself up off the bed and waddled over to the door, only to find it secured by more than the locking mechanism on the doorknob. Frantically she tried to force the door open. "Let me out!" she shouted, pounding on the door and the lock. Using the tanto, she began attacking the door, its latch and even the hinge trying to force it open…

A casual observer might suspect that an accident of some sort had caused the fire in the warehouses; however the lone figure standing hunched over in the middle of the flaming inferno would quickly dispel such a misconception. The warehouse had been pretty much obliterated by the force of the explosion. Timbers and pieces of the wall sagged outward. Part of the roof which had been blown upwards had managed to cling to the cross member long enough to drag down the remainder of a wall, pulling it inward, all of which was now burning quite profusely. The warehouses on either side had not fared much better. The force of the blast had bowed walls and ignited wood and shingles, causing a ring of fire that was rapidly expanding due to the dry nature of the wood.

Breathing heavily, Arden straightened up and looked around at the remains of the building and its occupants with a frown. The sound of shifting rubble caught his attention, causing him to turn towards the collapsed section of wall that still had some roof attached to it. Picking his way through the debris, he made his way over to the shifting pile of wood and grabbed the remains of a support beam, hefting the mass with both hands to see what was underneath. The splintered remnants of a crate fell away as Hecate sat up, muttering to herself.

"That's no way for a lady to talk," the large man commented as he flipped the debris he was holding off to the side. Reaching down, he gave the vixen a hand up. "Then again, you're no lady."

"No shit," she replied as the armor's aura flared up around her. Without warning, she yanked herself towards him while at the same time striking him with a right cross that sent him spinning to the floor. "And you're no fucking gentleman, either."

Arden's head snapped around to glare at the outlined glow of the fox as he wiggled his jaw, checking it for injury. All around him, flames danced outward as if blown by a strong burst of air as his body lifted from the floor to a standing position. "What the hell was that for?"

"That's for trying to kill me, you fucking moron!" the angry vixen retorted, the armor's aura swirling around her like it was her own personal firestorm, lifting her hair into a hallo around her head. "Just what were you thinking?"

A snarl escaped his clenched teeth as the man's hands slowly curled into balled fists. "I was thinking that I'd better deflect that spell or I'm going to be in some deep shit. What the hell did you expect?"

Hecate reached down and picked up the wakazashi and scabbard from where they had fallen on the ground. "From here it looked like you were trying to see if you could get us both killed." Taking a step towards the man, she glared at him menacingly. "Why didn't you deflect it up through the roof instead of into a pile of barrels filled with alcohol?"

"Get off my back," Arden growled angrily. Holding his hand out, he summoned the katana, still snug in its scabbard, from across the room. Catching it easily, he peeled off the burnt hand and remains of the arm it was attached to, discarding them like rubbish.. "I'm not the one throwing around high energy combat spells in a room full of volatile liquids, so back off."

"I've had it with your arrogance and stupidity!" Hecate declared, her armor's magical aura changing color from a bright red into a deeper burgundy color while at the same time becoming more solid around her. The eyes of the dragon on the armor's chest plate glowed with an inner fire. With an inhuman shriek, Hecate leapt forward, striking at him with the sword. Arden took a small hop backwards as he drew the katana and deflected the blow. Together the duo swept about the room in a deadly dance of steel. Brows furrowed, Arden found himself constantly on the defensive as the vixen pushed the attack, her strength and speed enhanced by the armor to the point that it gave her the advantage.

Unable to concentrate long enough for a spell and unable to change the momentum of her attack, it was all Arden could do to retreat before her, while trying not to stumble over any of the wreckage that littered the room. Hecate grimaced as she leapt forward with a snarl, dropping the scabbard so she could use both hands to wield the blade. Leaping backwards in response, Arden was surprised to discover that she had maneuvered him towards one of the few intact pillars in the warehouse. Using her strength to her advantage, she spun Arden's katana around and away, disarming him. Her sword low and to the side, she twisted her body, bringing the sword around in a deadly arc towards the left side of his head. Arden twisted violently, turning away from the blade while trying to duck to the side, but the tip still managed to bite deeply, slicing from the base of the cheek up through his eye and out his brow. The attack however, had left her unable to deflect the blow of the scabbard in his off hand, which snapped up and around to strike her in the back of the head like a sap.

An inhuman roar of pain and anger echoed across the town as he stumbled away from the vixen, holding his hands to the left side of his face. A new sound of movement caused him to turn back to Hecate. As he watched, she rose from a kneeling position, the aura around her now solid, with an almost plastic look to it as the entire dragon on the armor glowed with the same color. Eyes unseeing, the unconscious vixen rose to her feet and turned towards Arden. His pain was forgotten as the realization of what was happening struck him. "Lakash," he snarled as he faced the vixen being controlled like a puppet by the armor.

Hecate raised both hands towards the man as the aura around her body seemed to flow towards her hands. Second later sheets of lightning flew from her fingers towards Arden as the armor released its magic in a violent flood. With both hands held before him in defense, Arden was forced to stagger backwards despite having leaned into the assault. The torrent of electricity struck his hands, yet it didn't burn him, nor was it deflected. Instead, the electricity was captured into a sphere that grew in size until the attack ended several seconds later.

With a lopsided grimace, Arden glared at his opponent with his remaining good eye. "Burn me once, shame on you," he grunted in a raspy voice. "Burn me twice, shame on me. Didn't Lakash teach you more than one trick?" With a sharp shove from his hands he launched the accumulated energy as a single bolt that struck Hecate squarely in the chest, slicing through the protective aura and ripping into the figure of the dragon woven into the armor. An otherworldly scream filled the air as the vixen fell to the ground, her arms and legs flailing against the ground in an uncontrolled fit. Exhausted from the battle and his wounds, Arden slowly walked over to the twitching figure and examined it. There was a gaping hole in the armor where most of the dragon's image and the armor had been obliterated by the attack, as well as a fair size chunk from the side of the vixen's chest, which oozed blood from the cauterized wound. The glow on the dragon was slowly fading, but not fast enough for the man. Pointing a finger like a pistol, he fired a small burst of magic into the head of the dragon, thus putting an end to the last of the spirit's death throes.

"That motherfucker," the man muttered as he stared down at the remains of the armor for a moment. Reaching down opened her top slightly to reveal a small bead necklace hanging around her neck. With one finger, he yanked on the band, snapping it. As he watched, Hecate's shape shifted and flowed, slowly returning her to her original shape. He gave a brief nod, satisfied with the results as he noted that the wound in her side had closed itself when body returned to its natural state. An ugly burn still remained, but the damage was far less than it had been before.

Slowly he straightened up and looked around while probing the wound on his face with one hand. Blood flowed in a small river down the side of his face and chest. He paused for a moment and closed his remaining good eye in concentration. A minute later, he removed his hand revealing an angry scar running up the side of the face and an eye that was once again whole. Cautiously bending over, he picked up the katana and wakazashi, returning them to their scabbards before he then tucked them into his belt. He then took Hecate by one arm and heaved her over his shoulder, staggering somewhat under the load. A brief wave of his hand cast a spell to hide his movement from the town's people he heard running towards the blaze as he staggered his way towards the inn where they'd left Sheila.

"See?" the female dwarf chided from the shadowed alley of some near by buildings. "I told you we should just wait and watch." She gave Thumper a smug look, demonstrating her superiority. As the three watched, the man walked over to a section of fallen roof and lifted it up. "I'll bet anything that's a double over there and the real bitch is back at the hotel. No female in her condition would be able to get up after something like that."

Kord nodded to the witch and smiled. "Take two men and go get the bitch. Do whatever it takes, but do it fast." He reached out to grab the female's arm as she turned to go. "Make sure you don't injure her or the kid, understand me?" Without waiting for a reply, he released her and turned back towards the ruined warehouse just in time to see the man get nailed by a right cross. "Whoa."

"I guess that answers the question of it being the real bitch or not," Thumper growled. "I better head over to the hotel just in case there's trouble."

"No," the leader whispered sharply as he watched the ensuing battle. "I want you here. If we're lucky, they'll take each other down. When that happens, we should be able to move in and take out whoever's left standing."

"Do you think that's wise?" the other dwarf prompted. "We might be better off just doing a snatch and run. They're both magic users and you just sent off our only defense."

Together the two men watched the combat until its conclusion as the human destroyed the armor. Kord grunted to him self as he watched the bitch's shape shift back into that of Hecate. Drawing his axe, he was about to order his men to move out when he saw the witch round the corner at full speed. "What's wrong?" he whispered in a low voice.

Holding up her hand, the witch paused for a couple of breaths before speaking. "There's a seal on the door." She shook her head and glanced over at the man as he lifted Hecate's form. "There's no way I can get through it. Even if I could, I wouldn't want to go up against whatever's locked in that room." She nodded, trying to catch her breath while enduring Kords scowl. "It sounds like there's some berserk animal in there. Something's tearing up the place. I don't know if they planted something in there as a trap and it broke its control or what, but I wasn't about to find out."

"All right," the leader reluctantly agreed. "Until we know where the female really is, we'll just keep them under observation. I want you to follow him. If he does get the bitch, we take them immediately, before they have a chance to recover."

The female nodded in agreement. "Right." Turning, she gestured to two others who followed her as she ran off down the alley again.

Turning back to the warehouses, Kord swore a curse as he tried to spot their quarry. . "Where the hell did they disappear off to?"

Arden paused as he approached the back of the inn and listened to the sounds issuing from within. It was difficult to make out what was happening with the ringing of bells and sounds of people shouting, but what he heard was enough to make him curse and lunge for the rear door. Rounding the corner to the small hallway that lead to the room he'd left Sheila in, he was shocked to find that not only was the door still securely closed, his seal on the door was intact and showed no signs of tampering. Quickly he lowered the unconscious elf to the floor then concentrated on removing the protective spells on the door while at the same time trying to ignore the sounds of crashing furniture and screams coming from beyond.

No sooner had he removed the spell on the door than it virtually exploded, sending wood flying down the short hallway. On the other side of the door he saw Sheila standing with the remains of the table in her hands, beating on what was left of the door in a mindless rage. Around her body flowed a deep chartreuse color that fluctuated in both color and intensity as the berserk vixen finished destroying both table and door at the same time. Panting for a second, she blinked before realizing that the door was no longer there. Her eyes settled on Arden and she let out another shriek of rage, dropping the table and drawing the tanto before charging him.

Shocked at her attack, Arden barely dodged the dagger as it whistled in front of his stomach, passing within an inch of his skin. With a snake-like strike, his hand shot out to grab her wrist as she swung the dagger back towards him, blocking the blow and preventing her from swinging it again. Enraged, she lashed out with her other paw, slashing at his face with claw-like nails. Twisting his captive wrist, Arden pulled Sheila off balance, causing her attack to miss and giving him the opportunity to grab the other wrist, hauling them both high up over her head. He grunted as one of her knees slammed into his groin, causing him to bend over slightly, allowing Sheila to sink her long, canine fangs into the base of his neck at the shoulder. With a snarl, he slammed her two wrists together and then wrapped the fingers of his left hand around them both, freeing his right hand. The fingers on his right hand glowed with a black aura as he clawed at the dragon on her chest, causing her to release his neck. The vixen cut loose with a howl of pain that was echoed by the unearthly sound the armor's spirit made as black tendrils rapidly destroyed it and much of the armor around it seconds after.

Without the influence of the dragon spirit, Sheila's eyes rolled back up in her head and she lost consciousness. Only the fact that Arden still held her hands kept her from dropping to the floor. Reaching down, he lifted the limp vixen and carried her back inside the room and surveyed the damage. She had pretty much destroyed all the furniture in her crazed desire to escape the room. He sighed and tossed the mattress out from the corner of the wall and gently laid her down on it, grunting with the effort. Hobbling out into the hall, he grabbed Hecate by one hand and dragged her into the room, unceremoniously dumping her by the vixen. Exhausted, he leaned against the wall and slid down it until he sat on the floor.

Staring at the open door, he sighed and closed his eyes, summoning power from the very air around him. Seconds later, he concentrated on the doorway and the shattered wood around it. The pieces of wood blurred, faded and reappeared as a smooth wooden door, which once again hung on its hinge as if nothing had ever happened. Concentrating again, he then sealed the door with a protection spell.

Secure in the knowledge that they were safe for the moment, he closed his eyes to catch his breath. Despite his best efforts not to fall asleep, exhaustion claimed him.