Story (c) 2000-2004 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 45

Never count your chickens before they hatch.

Poquah watched as Ruddygore picked up an ornate pearl textured sphere with silver and gold inlay that seemed to pulse rhythmically with an inner power. "Do you really think that will be necessary?"

"I don't know," the big man replied, slipping the fist-sized globe into the outer pocket of the jacket he wore. "I've got a sneaking suspicion that I might need it."

Cocking an eyebrow at the big man, the elf prompted the big man, "Oh?"

"Yes. After our dinner conversation last night, I got to thinking about what was said." Picking up a top hat, he tapped the rim, causing the top to extend with an audible pop. "Think about it. Arden wasn't born in that body. He's possessing it."

Curiosity turned to concern as Poquah thought about it. "You mean that Ska'kull is still in there?"

"That's exactly what I mean," he replied, nodding gravely. "I think that the dragon's been fighting to take control again, which leads to my second suspicion. One I'll only be able to confirm by confronting them."

"That sounds quite ominous," the elf declared as he followed his master from the room. "Do you wish me to come along just in case there is trouble?"

Ruddygore dismissed that suggestion with a quick shake of his head. "No. Arden said to come alone and that's what I intend to do." He paused to give his companion a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, old friend. I've learned a lot in the years since we last butted heads. If there is a problem, I have no doubt who will win."

"As you wish," the Imir acknowledged with a slight bow. "I shall await your return."

Giving the elf a final nod, the sorcerer turned and walked from the main building into the apprentices' quarters. He paused to undo the latch on the door that led down to the training chamber, noting with satisfaction that Poquah had put a sign on the door that was all but impossible to miss, stating that anyone proceeding through the doorway would be killed. Someone had added that any who survived would be killed again. Chuckling, he summoned up a light that hovered over his head, and then passed through the door, down the long switchback tunnel until he finally arrived at the door to the combat arena.

He shifted his sight to the magic band and immediately let out a low whistle at what he saw. On closer examination, he determined that there were no less than three new spells on the door, all interconnected somehow. It also appeared that there was a mechanism for a key that would disable all three spells at once, but every time he tried to follow the thread, it faded into blackness and disappeared. He'd seen this kind of thing before, but only on curses that had been cast by the true demons of hell: Fallen angels. The fact that a mortal could cast such spells made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "This is not good."

A roar, loud enough to shake a sprinkling of dirt from the ceiling, came from behind the door. The suddenness of it caused the portly old man to retreat a step. "Who's there!" a deep voice, echoing strangely in his mind, demanded.

Adjusting his jacket, the sorcerer brushed the dirt from his shoulders and lapels as he coolly replied, "Throckmortton P. Ruddygore. I am alone as…" His reply was cut off by another roar, which was followed by the sound of something huge slamming into the door, causing it to bulge out towards him. Retreating another step, his hand dipped into his pocket while at the same time he heard the sound of a loud, electrical SNAP! from the other side of the door, followed by another roar and the crashing impact of a large body slamming into the far wall. He waited, unmoving, as he listened for additional sounds from behind the door. After a few moments, he heard low, muttered curses. "Is everything all right in there?" he ventured.

"No/" the voice thundered within his mind. A few moments later, the voice again replied, only this time in a perfectly normal timbre. "Hang on. Give me a second and I'll let you in."

Fingering the orb, Ruddygore waited impatiently for the door to be unlocked. He saw the magic on the door shifting in response to something from the other side. Soon, there was a click and the door opened a crack. Reaching out with his cane, he pushed the door open all the way and peered into the gloom. Even from the doorway the light from his sphere should have illuminated a good portion of the chamber; however, it faded to murky shadows after only a few feet. "Why the shadows?" Ruddygore asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Don't you trust me?" came the calm, almost amused sounding mind voice.

"You, I trust. It's the other one that I don't," the sorcerer replied as he listened for any movement.

A low chuckle of amusement came from the shadows. "So you figured it out, eh? Yah, Sha'kull is still in here, but I've taken precautions to insure that she doesn't get out of hand."

The big man nodded. "Still, I'll not enter until the shadows are gone. Either stop hiding and wasting my time or I'll leave."

"As you wish," the voice replied as the dark fog faded away. "You would have seen the spectacle sooner or later."

"Spectacle?" the big man thought to himself as he stepped in, only to freeze in his tracks at the sight of the dragon. Half curled in one corner of the room, it stared at him with its right eye, which looked like nothing more than a pool of inky darkness. That, however, wasn't what had caused him to stop. The dragon, or what was left of it, had been mauled by something that had been incredibly vicious. For all practical purposes, both wings were gone. The left one had been snapped off just short of the elbow, while the right one appeared to have been ripped from its socket. The large gaping wound just behind the shoulder of the front leg from where the wing had been ran a good portion of the length of the body. Here and there, ribs could be seen though the scar tissue. All over the body, he saw signs of large tracks of scale and flesh had been stripped from the body. There was what appeared to be a large scar running down through the left eye, which was a ruined, milky white mass. Several of the horns from on top of the skull were broken and missing, as well as a majority of the creature's tail. There were small curls of smoke rising from a fresh burn that ran along the underside of the jaw and down the front leg to the clawed foot-hand. His jaw, agape, Ruddygore could only stare and wonder how it had survived the damage.

"Now you understand," the dragon sent, closing its eyes. "There's no way Sha'kull could defeat you right now, even if…."

"Even if she wasn't bearing eggs?" the sorcerer prompted.

The dragon's one good eye snapped open and locked on the large man, who suddenly felt very small. "So you guessed that part too, eh? What was the giveaway?"

"It was the succubus," Ruddygore replied, entering the room fully before closing the door behind him, using the hand that had been in his pocket. "When Hecate told me that you'd been naturally immune to her powers, I knew that the only reason would be if you were in a female body. Then I remembered that when I fought Sha'kull, I had just assumed from the number of horns that she was a male. I'd forgotten that ancient females would gain the extra two horns when in their final breeding cycle. Then there was the amount of gold I heard you had been consuming on your way here. The conclusion was obvious."

"An analysis worthy of Sherlock Holmes," the dragon sent with a chuckle. "If you've figured all that out, then you know the favor that I'm going to ask of you."

"I assume that you want me to keep the eggs safe until they can hatch," he replied, shaking his head. "I'm afraid that's not something I can do. Greater dragons were a scourge on the land before they were wiped out. They had this belief that everything was food for them, including elves, humans and all the other sentient races."

"They were children of their environment," the man-dragon argued, as he used an elbow and forefoot to prop up his head. The other front appendage gestured as he spoke. "They were raised by a female who'd learned that growing up, too. It was a vicious cycle. If someone who took the time to teach them about balance and the consequences of their actions raised them, then I think they might find a more suitable way to survive. After all, how many people have actually learned to communicate with dragons?"

"Hmmm." Rubbing his beard in contemplation, Ruddygore paced back and forth as he considered the argument. "You do make a valid point." Stopping, he turned to the dragon and nodded. "I'm afraid that I'm not the person to do what you're asking; however, I do know several people who are most interested in ensuring the survival of all the dragon species. I'm sure I could convince each to take a few of the eggs."

Arden's eyes narrowed into slits. "You're not talking about dragon riders, are you?"

"What? No!" Frowning at the thought, the man shook his head. "Most definitely not. Those people are partially responsible for the downfall of the general dragon population. They slaughter dragons they can't tame!"

"Good." The dragon nodded as its expression relaxed. "I appreciate this. Part of my agreement with Sha'kull was that I'd ensure the survival of her offspring; otherwise I don't think I could have assumed control when I first possessed her."

Ruddygore nodded, noting that the left forefoot had stopped smoldering and was now currently digging its claws into the rocky floor. In fact, now that he noticed, the entire body appeared to be tensing. The man's hand started to dip into the pocket until he realized what was probably happening. "Well!" he said with mock cheer as he opened the door. "I think my curiosity has been satisfied for the moment. I'll leave you to your privacy."

"Thank you," the dragon replied as the door started to close. "Oh, and Ruddygore?"

"Yes?" the big man asked, pausing in the doorway to look back at the dragon.

"Next time you come… please, don't bring the orb."

He glanced down at the pocket and then to the dragon before nodding. "As you wish."

Hecate knocked on the door. "Sheila? Are you in there?" Waiting several seconds for an answer, she knocked again. "Hey! Sheila! Wake up!" Again, getting no answer, she opened the door and looked in. The bed, though a bit rumpled, was empty. Glancing over to the small bathroom that served this room and the one next to it, she noticed that Sheila's wheelchair was parked next to the door. She walked over to the door and knocked. "Sheila, you in there?"

"Yah! Just a minute!" the muffled voice of the vixen replied. A minute or so later, the sound of running water could be heard. Not long after that, the door opened. "Hey. How's it going?"

"Not bad," the ebony female replied, taking the vixen's arm to help her to the chair. "Um, do you know you're ass is hanging out in back?"

Sheila just laughed. "So that's what that breezy feeling is, eh?" Sliding her tail through the open slot in the back of the chair, Sheila sat down and squirmed for a bit to get comfortable. "Since Karina didn't have anything that was actually a maternity grown, she improvised by splitting the back on the dress. Since I'm not going to be walking around any, and I needed a hole for my tail, it just made sense."

"Still," the Imir replied as she took the handles to the chair. "I don't think I'd be too comfortable about going around with my ass hanging out the back, even in a wheelchair."

Again, Sheila laughed. "Honey, I've had so many men watch my naked ass doing the nasty on video, that the last thing I'll ever be is self conscious about letting it all hang out."

Hecate started to push the chair towards the door. "Oh, yah? So why don't you let it all hang out? Why bother wearing clothes at all?"

Sheila's ears wilted slightly as she thought about it. "I guess it's because I don't want people to think I'm an animal." She sighed. "Back home, we all wore clothing as a fashion statement, really. After what happened to Arden, and seeing those cat people running around without anything on, chained and collared, well…."

"I understand," the elf replied, putting her hand on the vixen's shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "Hey. I hear RT went to visit your boyfriend. Want to go see if he's back yet?"

"Arden?" Sheila's ears perked up as she smiled at the Imir. "Sure." Grabbing the wheels of the chair, she rolled it over to the nightstand that had the tanto on it and picked up the dagger, which she then tucked between her leg and the chair arm.

Hecate shook her head. "Do you really need that pig sticker?"

"Yah, well, I promised Arden that I'd always carry it with me," she replied with a shrug.

The elf crossed her arms. "What? You think someone's going to attack you here? Even if they did, what would you do with that thing? Besides, I'll be with you. "

"I guess," the vixen replied, somewhat reluctantly. Removing the dagger, she put it back on the nightstand. She then turned the wheelchair towards the door and pushing herself forwards. "So, where should we look first?"

"Let's try his study first," the elf replied, taking a good grip on the handles so that the chair wouldn't get away from her.

Together the two made their way down a maze of twisty passages, all alike. Sheila was a bit confused about where they were even after having spending the majority of the previous day exploring. They paused in front of a solid looking door. "This is it," Hecate announced as she raped on the door.

"Enter," came a muffled voice from behind.

Hecate opened the door and held it as Sheila wheeled herself through. Inside, they saw the sorcerer sitting behind an antique redwood desk with a modern looking penholder on it, some paperweights holding down parchment and a kerosene lamp. Sheila blinked as she looked at one of the paperweights and realized that it was a tiny metal model of the Golden Gate Bridge encased in glass. She glanced around the room and saw that one wall was covered with hundreds of books, all bound with the identical red binding and some odd, pictographic writing on the back.

"Ah, Sheila. I was expecting you to drop by," Ruddygore said as he stood from behind his desk. "Would you like some tea, or perhaps something a little stronger?"

"Yes, thank you. I think I would like some tea if you don't mind."

"Excellent." Reaching out, he grabbed a fancy rope that hung from the ceiling and tugged on it once, paused and then tugged twice more. He then moved around to a large sofa-loveseat and sat down on it. "Please, make yourselves comfortable," he prompted Hecate, waving towards one of the chairs nearby.

Sheila noticed that there was a blank spot next to the table where a second chair would logically be. Realizing that the sorcerer had indeed been expected them, and had left a place for Sheila to park. "So, I understand you saw Arden. How is he?"

"Oh, doing quite well," he replied, leaning back and pulling out a cigar. He paused for a second as he looked at Sheila. "Do you mind?"

"What? No. Please. Go right ahead."

Trimming the end of the cigar with a knife, he tossed the nub into the ashtray. He then puffed on the cigar as he used a spark of magic from one finger to light it up. Taking a heavy drag on it, he blew out the blue-gray smoke towards the ceiling. He smiled and looked at the vixen as he rolled the cigar in his fingers. "It is my worst vice, but I'm afraid it's one that I do so enjoy." He smiled and puffed again on the cigar before continuing. "Well, what can I say? Arden is doing well despite the ordeal she's been through."

"Ordeal?" Sheila prompted, confused at the statement.

"She?" Hecate demanded.

The vixen's head snapped around to look at the elf the elf then back to the sorcerer. "She?"

"Right," the Imir groaned, drawing the word out. "That would explain why the succubus couldn't affect her. Him. Uh…?" She blinked and looked up at Ruddygore. "Wait a minute. If he's a she, then she's got too many horns."

"Unless?" the large man prompted.

"Unless…unless she's in her final mating cycle. But that would mean that…" The elf groaned again as she smacked her forehead. "No wonder he was eating gold like it was going out of style."

"Huh? What are you talking about," Sheila asked, glancing between the two and definitely feeling left out. "What about the gold?"

"Remember when he said that dragons need gold as part of their diet?" She paused as the vixen nodded. "Right. Dragon hatchlings need it even more, and in an easily assimilated form. That's why the shells are coated with gold. It's also one of the reasons that people like to hunt for the eggs of a greater dragon, even though they know they'll be closely guarded. Intact eggs, when emptied, carry a king's ransom on the art market."

Sheila shook her head and waved her hands as if to clear the air. "So… wait… Let me see if I got this straight. Arden is in the body of a female dragon, who's pregnant and about to have a bunch of baby dragons?"

The sorcerer chuckled in amusement. "She's busy laying eggs, if that's what you mean."

For several seconds, Hecate and Ruddygore sat and watched as Sheila digested the information. They were mildly surprised when she smiled rather sinisterly. "Good. Maybe the bastard will have some idea of the crap he's put me through."

"Oh, I don't think there's a comparison," Ruddygore replied, stamping out the cigar. "The eggs she will lay are usually five or six feet in diameter and close to eight feet long. Somehow, even considering the scale, that's a pretty hefty sized bundle of joy."

"Oh, yah," Sheila muttered to herself, the smile even bigger. "Payback time." She gave a laugh that sent a chill down Hecate's spine. "You know, I never really believed in god before, but with poetic justice of that magnitude, I'm starting to believe."

Ruddygore turned at the sound of a muted knock at the door. "Enter!" The door opened revealing one of the servants with a teacart. "Ah, tea. Just in time," he declared, grateful for the distraction.

The shadows in one corner of Sheila's room stirred, allowing Lakash to step out. He quickly walked over to the nightstand where the tanto sat and picked up the blade. Cautiously, he withdrew the blade, while studying its magic to ensure it wasn't trapped. Once the blade was free, he set the scabbard down on the table and began to work on the blade. Shift a line here. Pinch a line there. It only took a few minutes to accomplish what he wanted, but it was more than enough for what he intended. Hearing voices in the hall, he quickly stuck the dagger back into the scabbard and replaced it on the nightstand before returning to the shadows.

"Thanks again, Hecate," Sheila replied as she wheeled her way into the room. Stopping next to the bed, she used the nightstand for support as she stood up, then sat down on the bed. She was about to lie down when she stopped and looked at the tanto. "I could have sworn I set that down with the hilt away from the wall." Picking up the dagger, she drew it and examined the surface for a minute before re-sheathing it. With a shrug, she tossed it back onto the nightstand and lay down for her nap.