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 48

Bang, Bang Maxwell's Silver Hammer Came Down Upon His Head!


Dust particles danced in the air as a lone beam of sunlight crept its way across the bed, towards Sheila's sleeping form. With a steady pace, it crossed the covers, climbed up the pillow and inched towards the vixens face, eventually coming to rest on her right eyelid. Groaning, the vixen shifted her head so the sunlight no longer was in her face and tried to go back to sleep. Her rest was again interrupted as the beam of light found its way onto her defenseless eyelid.

Unable to go back to sleep, Sheila yawned a wide, tooth-and fang-filled yawn as she stretched her arms. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she rolled over onto her back, grunting involuntarily as the large, liquid-cushioned mass in her womb sloshed, squeezing her internal organs. Her desire to go back to sleep was overridden by the urgent signals coming from her bladder, warning that she'd be wet as well as tired should she tarry much longer.

She tossed the covers back and rolled her legs off the edge so she could sit up, and was startled to discover something on the floor by her feet. Looking down, she saw Arden curled up on the rug next to the bed. As she watched, his eyes opened just enough to look up at the vixen before closing again. "What are you doing down there?" she yipped.

"Trying to sleep," he muttered in reply, shifting slightly to get more comfortable.

Sheila gave a derisive snort as she shook her head. "I can see that. Why are you sleeping on the floor instead of the bed?"

"I'd break it." Rolling over onto his stomach, he proceeded to arch his back like a cat, stretching the muscles. "Ruddygore didn't adjust my gravitic constant, so I still weigh a couple dozen tons." He pushed himself upright so that he was kneeling Japanese-style on the floor. "Or didn't it occur to you to wonder why I went down the siege ramp rather than taking the stairs last night?"

"To be honest, I didn't notice," the vixen replied, again yawning as she scratched the back of her head. "I was kind of out of it."

Arden chuckled. "I'll say. Do you know that you snore when you sleep sitting up?"

"I do not!" she replied defiantly as he nosily simulated what was supposed to be her snoring.

"That's what you think," he replied as he twisted his torso towards her until his shoulders had rotated almost a full one hundred and eighty degrees.

Sheila winced at the sight. "How can you do that? I'm getting back spasms just watching you."

Again he chuckled. "I'm a dragon," he replied, twisting his body the other direction, only this time he used his arms to leverage his shoulders even further so that he was almost facing her.

"Oh God no!" the vixen whined, covering her face as she involuntarily shuddered. "That's just not right!"

"Of course not. That kind of thing is why they call us wyrms, after all." Returning to a normal sitting position, he crawled over to where the vixen sat and laid his chin on her knees, being careful not to put any real pressure on them. He smiled up at Sheila and asked, "And how are the kids doing today?"

Sheila gave her belly a rub and shrugged. "No complaints so far. The real question is, do you like golden showers?"

"Huh?" Arden grunted, sitting up slightly.

"Cause unless you do, you should get out of my way," the vixen explained as she leveraged herself to a standing position, using the nightstand as a support. "I've got to go take a piss before I have an accident."

"Hmmm," he replied, leaning back to give her room to walk. "Golden showers, eh? I think I'll pass on that one. I was never a big fan of those kinds of water sports."

"Neither am I," she replied, pausing before closing the door to the water closet, "however, some of my tricks used to ask for it. It takes all types in that business, you know." She shrugged before closing the door.

"That," he commented to himself as he got to his feet, "she says to a man trapped in a female dragon's body, who's hopelessly in love with an anthropomorphic vixen straight out of his fantasies, who just happens to be pregnant with his kids." He looked at his reflection in the mirror and shook his head. "It takes all types, all right."

= = = = =

Rathsmon stepped out from the adepts' dorms and blinked as his eyes adjusted to the sunlight. He paused as he spotted Arden, who was sitting with Sheila on the grass near the gardens. The two of them appeared to be having a small picnic lunch involving sandwiches and a bottle of wine. For a moment he considered turning around and going back in the building, but he shook off the feeling and forced himself to approach the duo. He paused a few feet away and nodded. "Hello."

"Rathsmon," Sheila said, her face brightened by a smile as she looked up at him. "Hey! Where have you been? I haven't seen you since we got here."

The necromancer looked a bit embarrassed as he glanced at Arden. "I've been teaching Ruddygore's adepts about how to manipulate the undead. Kind of a Zombie 101 for aspiring sorcerers."

"Sounds fascinating," she replied without enthusiasm, the smile faded from her face.

"I know, it's not a popular thing to think about; however, there are people who would use such magic, and knowing how to do it yourself is required to do battle against it." He looked at Arden and bit his lip for a second. "Actually, the reason I came over was to talk to you, Arden."

"Oh?" Arden replied, looking up at the necromancer. "What can I do for you?"

"You promised to break the enchantment that made me a litch once we'd reached Castle Terindell," he said nervously. "As I understand that you'll be leaving soon, I was wondering if you were still planning on doing that?"

Arden studied the dead man for several seconds before he nodded. "Sure. I'll do that for you." He paused and smiled. "In fact, I'll do it this afternoon. Bring your students to the smithy in two hours."

Rathsmon looked confused. "The smithy?"

"Yes. The smithy," Arden cheerfully replied with a nod. "Two hours, no sooner and no later. And don't forget to bring your students!"

"All right," the necromancer acknowledged, still confused. "Two hours, in the smithy," he muttered to himself as he walked away.

"In the smithy?" Sheila asked.

"In the smithy," Arden confirmed. "Care to come and watch?"

"Sure," she replied, finishing off her glass of wine. "This I have got to see."

= = = = = =

"There's quite a crowd out there," Sheila commented as she peeked out through a crack in the smithy doors. She turned to look at Arden, who was etching a pattern into the flat metal surface of an anvil. "The natives are getting restless. How much longer?"

"Go ahead and let them in," Arden replied as he continued to carefully etch away at the metal.

"It's about time," the vixen grumbled as she opened the door. "All right. You can all come in now. Be careful not to disturb the circle over by the forge unless you want to stand around for another couple of hours while he redoes everything."

A line of students, both male and female, filtered through the door, with Rathsmon and Poquah bringing up the rear. They crowded around the anvil, vying for an opportunity to see the delicately inscribed pattern that was being etched in the metal. One of them bumped into Arden, jostling his arm. Fortunately, the tip wasn't against the metal at the moment. "Back off, damn it!" the scarred figure snarled, sending the group scattering away from him. Putting the tool down, Arden reached for a large wineskin and took a hearty drink before discarding the now empty bag. Somewhat renewed, he stood up and turned to face the group. "All right. You can quit cowering. I'm not going to eat any of you." He scowled at the young man who'd jostled his arm and frowned. "Well, you maybe, but the rest are safe." He clapped his hands loudly, making the students jump and pointed to the wall that was closest to both the anvil and the circle in the sand. "Everyone over there. And don't screw up that circle!"

Poquah and Rathsmon made their way over to the anvil as the students rushed to stand by the wall. The Imir was the first to speak. "That is a most curious pattern you have there. Is it a…?"

"Ah ah!" Arden interrupted, holding up a hand. "This is a teaching exercise. Let's let the kids try to figure it out." He turned to the students as Sheila took a seat on a stump near the bellows. "All right. You all know that Rathsmon here is undead. Technically he'd be considered a litch; however, he didn't do it himself. Nor is his spirit bound directly to the corpse, but to an inanimate object not directly related to the body. The spirit is bound to a soul stone, a gem whose crystalline structure is naturally harmonic with the energies that we associate with the soul." He paused and pointed to the circles. "First, let's start with some basics. What can you tell me about the structure of these circles?"

The students took a few minutes to examine the pattern on the anvil as well as the one in the sand. One of the male students with blond hair and a handlebar mustache spoke up. "They're identical?"

Arden nodded. "Right. What else?"

A redheaded girl who had produced a magnifying glass and was studying the anvil spoke up. "This is using sympathetic magic?"

"Very good," Arden replied, smiling. "What else?"

"Ummm…" the blond boy started to speak then paused, looking nervous. "I've never seen a septagon before, much less one with elements of sympathetic magic in it before. But unless I'm mistaken, these symbols lining the interior are for some sort of summoning or channeling of energies."

"Oooh," Arden cooed, looking over at Poquah. "You do have some smart ones here," he commented as he nodded to the students. "Exactly. The two circles are identical. They are linked using sympathetic magic, and have elements of channeling imbedded within the septagon interior. Does anyone know why I used sympathetic magic?"

"Because you can't cast it yourself?" someone mumbled from the crowd.

Arden stepped around the stone. "Who said that?"

The small group separated leaving a lone boy, maybe fourteen years old, standing alone. His curly black hair and dark complexion resembled that of Middle Eastern folk on earth. The kid held up his hand. "I did."

"That's right." Arden squinted at the kid for a second before summoning him over with a wave of his hand. "You're the kid that was working on that automaton that attacked Sheila when we first arrived, aren't you?" The boy nervously nodded. "I thought so. So you've got some experience with self sustaining sympathetic magic as well as channeling, right?" Again the boy nodded. "Perfect!" Arden clapped the boy on the back and led him around the anvil to where he'd been sitting moments earlier, then turned to Rathsmon. "If you'd please get into the larger circle, we'll get this show on the road. But first, I need the stone."

"The stone? Oh, yes," the necromancer replied, turning to Sheila. "You have the package I gave you back in my castle?"

"The what?" she asked, looking confused. "What package?"

"The stone I gave you," Rathsmon replied, stepping over to the vixen. "It was folded inside of some cloth. I told you never to open it or expose it directly to sunlight. Remember?"

"Oh, yah," she replied, nodding. A moment later, her ears wilted as she covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh my god! The stone! It was in the armor!"

"WHAT?" Rathsmon grabbed the vixen by the lapels of her cloak. "What do you mean, 'it was in the armor'?"

"Let go of her," Arden commanded, grabbing the litch by the shoulder and squeezing.

Rathsmon released Sheila and turned to face Arden. "Damn it! Don't you understand? If she lost the gem, then I'm screwed!"

"Calm down! Panicking won't do you any good." Arden paused to give the dead man a moment to get settled. "Now, you have a connection to the stone. We know that you can't range very far from the stone, so it must be nearby. Why don't you concentrate and try to locate it?"

"R-right. Locate the stone." Rathsmon closed his eyes and slowly turned around. "It's close. I can feel it." He held out his arm and suddenly stopped turning. Opening his eyes, he realized that he was pointing at Arden. "What? You have the stone?"

"Let this be a lesson to all of you," Arden stated, sweeping his cold gaze over the crowd. "Never give someone something that valuable unless you're positive they won't lose it." He smiled, extended his neck unnaturally and appeared for a moment to be choking on something. Suddenly, a large lump rose up in his throat, and a second later was spit from his mouth and into a bucket containing water. Casually, he reached in and pulled out the cloth bundles and began to unwrap it. "I removed it when I went to duplicate the armor. Since I, as a dragon, don't actually have pockets, I had to store it in the only place I was sure it couldn't get lost from."

"Very funny," the necromancer grumbled.

The cloth slipped off of the stone, revealing a dark red, square cut stone that resembled a ruby, except for its oddly surreal glow. Arden stepped over to the anvil and placed the stone in the center of the septagram. "All right, Rathsmon, in you go. Don't mess up the lines, or I'll leave you like that."

Looking rather annoyed, Rathsmon stepped into the inner part of the circle, taking great care not to damage any of the delicate markings in the sand. "What now?" he grumbled.

Arden turned to the boy by the anvil. "As you can see, there are only three lines to close. When you close them, you need to harmonize them to the circle. I could do it, but I think you've probably got more experience at this than I do."

"That, and I can juice it to lock the harmonics in place, too, right?" the kid stated somewhat smugly.

"Yah, that too," Arden replied with a laugh. He watched as the boy finished etching in the last of the three lines, noting that the lines in the sand also closed themselves at the same time, demonstrating that the outer sympathetic ring was functioning properly.

"All right, now to lock it in," the kid stated. Taking a deep breath, he placed his hands along the lines of the outer circle and concentrated until the entire pattern glowed with a white light, as if illuminated from within the anvil itself. The glow faded, leaving the pattern a shimmering silver texture that was matched by the pattern etched in the sand. "There you go. Is that what you were looking for?"

"Perfect," Arden replied, shooing the kid away from the anvil. "All right, now that we have the litch in the circle over there, and the soul stone in the circle on the anvil, anyone care to venture a guess as to what's next?"

The blond kid raised his hand. "You're going to hit it with that hammer?"

"Hammer?" Arden asked, holding his hands out. "What hammer?"

"The one you've got tucked in the belt at the small of your back," the youth replied.

Arden smiled and drew a large, three-pound hammer from a loop in the back of his belt. "Not bad," he commented to the boy as he tapped it on the anvil. "Smart and observant. Now, just because I have a hammer doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to strike the stone, does it? What else could it be for?" He looked around as he waited, noticing that Rathsmon had actually begun to sweat, something he'd never see one of the necromancer's bodies do before. "Anyone?" He asked again, this time looking at Poquah.

The Imir shook his head. "I can see no other reason for you to have the hammer."

"All right, then. We've established that the only reason I have this hammer is to strike the stone with it," Arden said, giving the necromancer a small smile. "Anyone care to tell me what will happen to the stone when I hit it?"

"It will shatter?" the redheaded girl asked.

"Will it?" Arden tapped the hammer on the anvil twice to get the feel for it then raised it over his head.

"NO!" Rathsmon shouted as he dove towards the anvil, only to bounce off of the invisible barrier inside of the summoning circle. He let out an inarticulate scream as the hammer struck the stone and bounced off. Dropping to his knees, Rathsmon grabbed his head with both hands before falling over onto the floor where he lay, twitching.

"Well, what do you know!" Arden said cheerfully. "The stone didn't break. Can anyone explain why?" He paused for an answer, looking even to Poquah who remained silent. "Oh, come on! What happens when you strike an ordinary gemstone with a hammer?"

"It shatters," the girl quickly answered.

"Why does it shatter?" Arden prompted.

"Oh! I know!" the blond boy piped up. "The crystalline lattice absorbs the kinetic energy until the structure suffers a catastrophic failure. Once that happens, there's a cascading effect where the structure will fail along multiple stress points, releasing the energy in such a manner as to cause the gem to virtually explode."

"Close enough," Arden replied, leaning on the hammer. "Now, why didn't it explode?"

"The sympathetic circle," the curly haired youth said. "That's why Rathsmon cried out like that. His circle is about twenty times the size of the one on the anvil. That means that anything you do to the gem directly is only going to have one-twentieth the effect on Rathsmon."

"Right. In other words, even though I hit this stone with far more than enough power to shatter any ordinary stone, it's unscathed because of the energy differential created by the sympathetic channel." He nodded to the curly haired boy. "What else has happened to the stone?"

The boy stepped closer to the anvil and studied it for a moment before giving Arden a wide-eyed look. "It's absorbed the energy!"

"That's right!" Arden said, raising his voice for the entire class to hear. "Each time I hit this stone," he stated, raising the hammer and slamming it down into onto the gem, causing Rathsmon to scream out, "the stone absorbs more energy." Again he struck the stone, causing Rathsmon to cry out.

"Stop it!" Sheila shouted, as she grabbed his arm. "Stop it! You're torturing him!"

"No I'm not! I'm fulfilling my promise while teaching these kids a valuable lesson," Arden replied, prying her hands from his arm. "I can't stop now. Either I release him, or he's going to be like this, in pain, for a very long time!"

The horrified vixen looked over at Rathsmon as he lay twitching on the ground, foaming at the mouth and then back over at Arden. "You monster!" she shouted as she turned and ran for the door.

Arden started to go after her but instead turned and, with all his might, slammed the hammer down onto the stone, causing the handle to shatter as the head ricocheted off and disappeared in a pile of scrap metal. The force of the strike had literally bounced Rathsmon off the floor several inches as he continued to twitch, oblivious to any further pain. Arden turned and grabbed a much larger hammer and, using both hands, slammed it down onto the stone with all his might, shattering the stone.

Rathsmon cried out once more as there was a bright flash, then both summoning circles were filled with flame. "Now's where the sympathetic magic combines with the channeling runes," Arden shouted at the top of his lungs. "The energy released from the gem is fed into the summoning circle, where it's now being channeled back into the sympathetic circle and back again, creating a loop. The feedback loop is sufficient to break the spell, while at the same time, the channeling effect will insure that his soul can only go into the summoning circle." Seconds later, the flames vanished as quickly as they came, leaving the charred form of a body lying on the sand in the circle.

"You killed him," someone muttered.

"No. He was already dead," Arden replied.

The red headed girl angrily faced him, her hands balled into fists. "You said you were going to break the spell."

"I did," Arden replied with an impish grin.

"You bastard! How cou---" the girl started, but stopped as she heard a groan coming from the circle.

Everyone turned to see large chunks of charred ash drop away from Rathsmon as he sat up with a groan. "What the hell just happened to me?" he asked, coughing as he inhaled some soot.

Arden stepped over, reached out and gave him a hand, helping him to his feet. "Welcome back," Arden said as picked up a nearby barrel, effortlessly lifted it up, and then dumped the contents on Rathsmon, who cried out in shock. "Was that a little cold?"

Rathsmon stood, shivering from the cold dousing as he sputtered incoherently. "Cold? That was freezi…" The necromancer stopped, his eyes wide open as he realized what he was feeling. "I'm cold? I'm cold!" He ran over and touched Arden's face. "You're warm!" Laughing, the man hugged himself and shivered. "I can feel the air against my skin! I'm alive again!"

"You're better than that," Arden said, reaching down next to the anvil and picking up a polished square of metal and handing it to the man.

Rathsmon looked in the mirror and froze, stunned at what he saw. Slowly his hand rose to his face and touched the smooth skin before he turned his gaze to his hands. "I'm--I'm young again?" he asked, looking up at Arden.

"Yep," the scarred man replied. "I'll bet Lakash didn't tell you that part, did he?" He chucked as the un-undead man shook his head. "When the amulet grants a wish, it always renews the person making the wish, returning them to the prime of their youth. Once the spell was broken, you were returned to your original, youthful body." He reached out and squeezed the man's shoulder gently. "He wasn't offering you anything you wouldn't have gotten when the spell was broken, when he made that deal back on the boat. He was just using you."

Rathsmon lunged forwards, wrapping his arms around Arden in a hug. "Thank you! I don't know how I can ever thank you!"

"Ummm," Arden replied somewhat embarrassed as he glanced at the others in the room. "Actually, if you put some clothes on, I'll call it even, OK?"

The necromancer stepped backwards and looked down, realizing for the first time that he was naked. He blushed and hastily took a robe that was offered by a student. "Thank you," he repeated, his eyes tearing with joy.

"You're welcome." Turning to the class, Arden nodded. "All right. Class dismissed. For extra credit, someone take Rathsmon to the baths and see that he's taken care of." He watched as the students filtered out of the room, excitedly talking amongst themselves as they left.

Poquah walked over to Arden and frowned. "None of that was necessary, was it?"

"Huh?" Arden grunted as he cocked an eye in the elf's direction. "All right," he admitted with a sheepish grin. "You're right. I could have done it without all the hustle."

The Imir's frown deepened. "Then why did you put him through all of that?"

"Two reasons, really," Arden replied, as he scrubbed the pattern from the anvils surface with a metal spike, destroying the enchantment. "First was to teach the students a lesson about sympathetic magic, channeling, and its uses."

"Right. And the second?" Poquah prompted.

"To teach them a lesson about making a deal with demons," Arden stated flatly. "All of them are going to be tempted to make a deal sometime in the future. I put Rathsmon through a living hell to turn him human again. I could have done it without almost any pain, but if I had, they would have had an example of someone getting out of a bargain with little to no cost. This way, any time one of them thinks about making a bargain, they'll remember what happened to him, and think twice."

"Indeed," the elf replied flatly. "So his attempt to kill you on the boat had no effect on your decision to inflict this upon him?"

"Oh, I won't go so far as to say that," Arden replied, tossing the spike away into the same pile of scrap the hammer head had flown into. "Let's just say that it more like the frosting on the cake. Makes for a nice topping, but without the cake, it loses its appeal."

Poquah cocked an eyebrow at the Arden and nodded. "Indeed."

= = = = =

Sheila lay curled up on the bed, hugging the pillows as she cried quietly into them. Her ear turned towards the door automatically as someone knocked on it, but she ignored it, burying her muzzle further into the pillows. A minute later, another knock came, this time louder and more insistent. "Go away!" The vixen shouted, trying to curl up even smaller on the bed.

"Sheila!" a strange voice called out from the other side of the door. "Open up, please."

"Go away!" the vixen cried out, throwing one of the pillows at the door.

Again came the insistent knock. "Sheila! It's Rathsmon! Please! Open the door!"

"Rathsmon?" the vixen muttered quietly, not quite believing what she'd heard. Rolling her feet off of the bed, she got up and waddled to the door. "This had better not be some kind of cheap-assed trick, Arden, or I'll skin you alive!" Yanking the bolt back on the door, she opened it to see a small, bookish young man in his early twenties wearing a plain, brown monks robe. "Rathsmon? Is that really you?"

"Indeed it is," the small man replied with a broad smile.

Sheila's hands shot up to cover her mouth as she gaped at the man for a second before she reached out and embraced him. "You're alive! You're really alive!"

"Yes, I'm really alive now," he replied, cautiously giving her a hug back, suddenly uncomfortable at the closeness. "May I come in, please?" he asked, pulling himself away.

"What? Oh, sure!" she replied, stepping back into the room so he could enter. "So this is the real you?"

"Yes, it is," he replied, sitting down in one of the two chairs by a small table which had a tea set on it. "At least it's how I looked when I joined the monastery."

Sheila moved to sit in the chair opposite from him. "I'm glad you made it. After seeing what Arden was doing to you, I was sure he was out to destroy you."

Rathsmon shook his head. "Destroy? No. Hurt, yes. However, I think I know his reasons and I can't blame him for them."

"Bullshit," the vixen spat. "There's no reason for him to have tortured you like that. There's no excuse. Period!"

"That's where you're wrong," the man replied somberly. "During the river boat journey here, you were in your cabin so you didn't see it, but I was going to kill Arden. Only he knew what I was up to and took steps to prevent it." He paused as the information sank in. "Of course, I don't think that's the only reason." The small man shrugged as he twiddled the end of his belt between his fingers. "I think he was using it as a lesson to the students."

"What the hell kind of lesson is that?" the horrified vixen asked.

"Interesting you should phrase it that way." He gave her an impish smile. "I'll lay odds that nine out of ten of those students will some day cut a deal with a demon for some sort of service. I think that was Arden's way of making them realize that the cost of getting out of such a deal can be far worse than anything you could get in trade." His eyes glazed over as he lost himself in some memory for a second before the focused back on the vixen. "To be honest, that pain was small penance for some of the things I've done since I came to this world."

"I don't know," Sheila replied, chewing on her lower lip.

"Sheila," the monk said, reaching out to take her hand. "Please. Don't blame him. He did what I wanted, and I wouldn't have it any other way." He arched his eyebrows and nodded. "Please?"

The vixen smiled. "All right. Since if that's what you want, then I guess I can't hold it against him." She released his hand and nodded. "So what will you do with yourself now?"

The small man shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. Poquah indirectly implied that Ruddygore might keep me around to act as an instructor. I might also take on the duties of maintaining his library."

Sheila's brows furrowed as she listened to him. "It doesn't sound to me like that's what you want to do."

"I don't know," he replied, shaking his head. "I entered the monastery with a conviction that I was following Christ's teaching. That everything I had read in the Bible was the truth. Since I've come here I've learned much that has made me question my faith, but at the same time, it's somehow managed to reassure me about certain things as well. I no longer blindly follow those writings, but I do see the truth in some of it." He looked down at the simple robes he wore and then smiled at the vixen. "I'm almost thinking that, after all this time, I'm finally about to start down the path that will lead me to true enlightenment."

"Really?" the vixen asked, cocking an ear in his direction. "And what's your first step?"

"I think I shall go visit the witch, Huspbreth," he stated, noting her confused look. "Yes, I know. When you think of witches, you think of evil women, flying on brooms or standing around a caldron, muttering evil spells. Well, you're half right. Plenty of witches use caldrons, fly on brooms and other such things, but some of them are actually good witches. Huspbreth's coven considers themselves to be the daughters of Eve, who was cast out of Eden. They're good people who seek to do good in the world. If anyone in this world can get me started on the path, it will be her."

Sheila smiled. "That's great, Rathsmon. That's really great. I'm so glad to hear you're ready to start a new life."

The small man nodded. "Well, if you'll excuse me," he said standing. "I wanted to come by and make sure you were all right. Some of the students said you were upset when you ran out."

"I'm fine," the vixen replied, standing also, "now that I know you're OK."

"Good. Now if you'll excuse me," he said, giving her a small bow, "I must return to my students and see that today's lesson isn't lost on them."

Sheila escorted him to the door and closed it behind him. She then turned and walked back over to the bed and lay down. "I don't know," she whispered to herself. "I just don't know." Taking a pillow, she again curled up with it between her legs and tried to go to sleep.

= = = = = =

The ornate carriage, pulled by four Clydesdale horses, made its way through the pre-dawn morning as it rolled down the winding dirt road that lead away from Castle Terindell. Less than an hour out from the castle an odd, heavy fog seemed to engulf the road and all of the surrounding area, shrouding it from view, even to those in the carriage. The fog, thicker than what London often encounters, seemed to cling to the ground in such a way that the horses seemed to be splashing in some murky water as they marched along. After several minutes of this, the driver of the carriage called the horses to a stop.

Poquah climbed down from the front as the driver locked the simple wooden brakes. With a practiced motion he let the steps down as he opened the door, holding it so the occupants could exit. Ruddygore was first, managing to somehow fit his immense bulk through the door without help of a crowbar. Next came Sheila, who accepted a hand from the elf as she stepped down the stairs. Last was Arden, who jumped down to the ground, causing the carriage to lurch, despite the extra heavy duty springs which had been installed.

"Think you got the soup thick enough?" Arden asked as the carriage vanished into the fog.

"It is as thick as it needs to be," the sorcerer replied as he started walking across a smooth, grassy field. In the distance, the low moan of a foghorn could be heard. "It's necessary to cover the arrival of the ferry."

"I suppose," Arden commented as he walked along behind Sheila, watching to make sure she didn't stumble in the dark, "assuming this isn't the only patch of fog you have about."

Ruddygore stopped and shot him a scathing look. "I managed to keep the secret this far by not making stupid mistakes."

"Just an observation," Arden replied, shrugging off the comment. "Is this thing much farther?"

The sorcerer shook his head. "No. In fact, we should be seeing the lights soon." True to his words, several lights faded into view as a large, paddle-wheeled riverboat pulled into view. No steam engine drove this boat, though. Instead, the regular sound of a drum could be heard along with the splash of oars, which drove the boat out of the fog. A series of staccato beats from the drum brought the oars to a halt as the boat settled against the grass. The boarding ramp dropped, landing noisily on the grass. "Right on time," the big man commented, pleased with himself. "Now, if everyone will quickly board, we can be off."

"I hope you don't mind a few extra passengers," came a voice from the fog.

"Who's there?" Ruddygore demanded, summoning a light that failed to show anyone in the fog. The mist swirled and appeared to get thicker before it suddenly dissipated, revealing Lucifer and the angel who had appeared to Arden, standing before them. "Lucifer? What do you need with the ferry?"

"Throckmorten, my old friend," the devil said with a smile as he strode confidently forward. "Surely you realize that I'm not permitted to step foot on where our boy must go?"

"What?" The big man turned to Arden. "What's he talking about?"

Lucifer feigned surprise, holding his hand over his heart. "Oh, he didn't tell you?" He turned to Arden. "You didn't tell him where you were taking him?"

Arden simply shrugged. "He didn't ask."

"What's he talking about, Arden?" the sorcerer demanded. "Where are we supposed to be going?"

"We're going to the genesis point," Arden casually declared, stepping towards the ramp. "Now if you don't mind, I think we best get a move on."

The large sorcerer looked annoyed and confused. "The genesis point? What's that?" he demanded.

Arden sighed, as if dealing with a small child. He turned to the sorcerer and asked, "Where was God before he created everything?"

"I don't know," Ruddygore replied. "That's something that's been debated for a long time."

"Heaven?" Sheila ventured.

"No, not heaven," Arden replied with a smile. "God created the heavens and the earth, so He had to be somewhere else. Where He was is the genesis point. When God created all of creation, He did it from a point outside of everything, a point that is, in fact, in the middle of the sea of dreams. Of course, that's not really accurate, since that's only the point where creation occurred, and not where God was. It is, however, the central point for all creation. It's where the origin of life, the universe and everything is. The sea of dreams is the fabric that ties everything together, and it all leads to that one point. And that is where we're going."

"No shit?" Sheila asked, somewhat awe struck.

"No shit," Arden chuckled before looking at Ruddygore. "You'll have two celestials aboard to help navigate our way there and back. You'll be the first human since the dawn of time to see the point of creation. "

"Since the dawn of time?" Ruddygore asked, confused, "Who else has seen it?"

"Think about it," Arden said with a sly smile. "The first humans, created by God himself, and placed in a paradise that no human has ever been allowed to set foot in again. His grand experiment with humanity for the first time. The template for all the rest of creation, so pure and powerful that every universe has a mythos built around it."

"Eden," the sorcerer whispered. "You're talking about the Garden of Eden."

Arden nodded. "That's right. That's where we're going, the first Eden. That's where my quest will end."

"No!" the sorcerer roared. "You're insane if you think I'm going to take you to Eden. It's forbidden!"

A calming hand came down upon Ruddygore's shoulder, causing him to turn and look into the gentle eyes of the angel. "There's no need to worry." He smiled and shook his head as the sorcerer started to speak. "There is no need to worry." Releasing the sorcerer's shoulders, he turned and took Sheila's arm, escorting her towards the ferry. "Hello again, Sheila. I hope you're doing well?"

"I'm doing wonderful," she replied dreamily.

"Hey!" Arden grumbled. "That's my girl you got there, buddy!" he said as he followed them onto the boat.

"You go get 'em, tiger!" Lucifer said, urging Arden on. He turned to Ruddygore and slapped the big man across the back. "You coming?"

Ruddygore blinked and looked down at the devil. "Do I have a choice?"

"No," Lucifer said, laughing as he started up the ramp.