Volume 1 - Prologue
Author's Note: Hey there and welcome to The Missionary. What follows, for this particular chapter is the revised (arguably much better!) first chapter of the story. If you enjoy what you read, please feel free to leave a review. If something doesn't work out for you by all means let me know! I hope you find this as entertaining to read as I have in writing it!
"It was the start of the warming season this week but my offer to help Eveningstar was summarily ignored yet again. . . I tried to approach Lord Winters but she wasn't remotely interested in seeing me and my best efforts to speak to the farmers. Those people that tried to help raise me when my parents were murdered, I'm not the same person to them any more. I walk through the village and people ignore my presence or look down on me when they think I can't tell. I have friends, of course, mostly the children I used to babysit when the war came but if their parents let them out to greet me at all it's short lived and the warmth quickly dies when they tell me about the 'horrible monster' their parents tell them that I've become.
I can't help what she did to herself. I tried to help her, I really did. I loved her because of who she was inspite of those things she'd done. I believed that she could have become more and I am not ashamed of that. I won't be, because I know that at Her very core, Chauntea's teaches us about growth and the cycle of life that is innate in everything we do. Yes, she sold her soul, but dammit she tried to do better. She tried.
She tried. And nobody but me believed in her.
I am not ashamed."
-Diary of Kathrine Stoneriver
It had started with one bottle of mead.
She knew better. It always started that way.
Yet she sat there staring blankly at what she'd written with her quill poised over the damp page ready to stab at it again to somehow give meaning to the swirl of words behind her eyes. Their meanings were constantly in flux and just how they went together felt like a mystery she needed to explore to take her mind off of what'd already gone past. How could she have given Jezebel's life any more meaning without opening it to the scrutiny of judgment by her logical mind- that stupid voice that insisted she'd been a fool to try to help the damned woman in the first place. What gave her that right?
Kathrine picked up one of the half dozen empty bottles near her and tipped it up trying to suck the last drop of nectar from the beveled glass. She just wanted it to go away for a while. That stupid voice. That stupid, stupid voice.
The voice that said redemption was possible.
Tears welled up in her eyes when she slammed the bottle down with righteous anger but her feeble strength was no match for the sturdy glass and instead of creating the thunk she knew it should've sounded like, the bottle simply clinked on the polished table top. Much like her life, there was just too much lacking for it to leave any solid, meaningful impact.
"Hey. . . Long day?" A soft voice whispered from her left and despite everything that Kathrine wanted to say, the only thing she could do was weep. It just needed to come out. She was done smiling, she was done laughing, she just wanted peace for a day. Was that too much to ask for?
A slender hand came to rest on Kathrine's back before rubbing her shoulders back and forth in a slow pattern that only registered on the fringes of her mind but in another moment an arm came around her shoulders and someone was pulling her into a hug. She didn't flinch away though her mind wanted to. The arms pulled her into warmth and didn't let go when she tried to pull away, they were gentle and tender yet Kathrine couldn't see who they belonged to. "It's okay, sweety. . . Let it out."
She did. For a long time she wept in the strangers arms to the sound of a soft cooing whisper telling her everything was alright. Maybe it was her mother, maybe she'd look up and see her light blonde hair and button nose, smiling down at her little girl with that odd twinkle she got whenever she knew she was right. Kathrine sniffled and turned her head into soft flesh of her bosom and abruptly froze. She knew something was wrong, the part of her that wanted to believe was dying and slowly she came into an understanding of what it was she was actually doing. She didn't want to let go of the woman's warmth but this wasn't right, it wasn't fair to her. But so what? She was entitled to being selfish once in a while too, wasn't she?
Slowly Kathrine opened her eyes and looked up to see a smiling face looking down at her framed by waves of coppery red hair and a curious pair of half moon glasses resting at the very edge of her nose. Her eyes were a deep set green full of vitality and intelligence yet also holding a gentle understanding that spoke of years beyond her apparent mid twenties. Her warmth was reassuring yet her eyes even more so, drawing out the secrets Kathrine wanted to share, pulling on those strings that told her everything wasn't alright. She didn't have to speak to tell Kat that she was there for her if she needed anything, it was implied in her arms as the breath lingered into a moment between them. She smiled softly and reached up, stroking Kat's hair out of her eyes. "Feel better?"
She sniffed. "Not really. . ."
The woman's fingers traced little lines through her hair, furrowing neatly spaced rows through her platinum blonde mess. She suddenly became acutely aware of not having brushed her hair before coming out of her room but she couldn't bring herself to care right at that moment. "All things pass in time, sweety. Wanna talk about it?"
How could she? How could she explain to a complete stranger what they'd gone through to bring Jezebel to the light. How, in the end, it'd meant nothing at all. Her voice cracked the second she opened her mouth choking out a timid whimper through sheer force of will more than any conscious effort to speak. "I'm sorry, I. . . I don't."
"It's okay." The woman's voice didn't change in the least from its warm, reassuring tone, even as she slid herself closer to Kathrine and pulled her into a warm hug. "It's okay."
Kat closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around the woman's silk covered back, resting her chin on her shoulder. The scents of vanilla, lilac and jasmine with a soft undertone of bathing oils fluttered through the tight space between them, filling Kathrine's mind with images of a warm bed in a quiet place far away from Arabel, far away from even Eveningstar. It was her private sanctuary from the world and it existed nowhere but in her mind. There was always vanilla there. She nuzzled into the scent drawing in a deep breath and sighing it out along with her wordly concerns. That'd be her private place and no one would take it.
Kathrine flinched. "Uh. S- sorry."
"Don't be." The woman stroked her back. "You looked like you needed it."
Slowly she managed to open her eyes, surveying the room around her. Most of the other patrons of the planar bar were busy with their own conversations and introspections; a sphinx was playing chess with some elven man who looked like a wizard while opposite them a blonde haired man in a dusty looking overcoat was nursing a bottle of water in front of a book. He cast a glance at Kathrine, perhaps feeling her eyes on him, and then went back to his book. "T-. . . Thanks." Kathrine swallowed as she closed her eyes again and turned to the woman's ear. With a barely audible breath she forced herself to speak. "I'd really like some company."
The woman didn't hesitate, patting her back lightly. "Alright, sweety. . ."
Kathrine awoke with a throbbing ache in the back of her skull and the mixed scents of vanilla and sweat lingering on her skin. She was warm and comfortable and safe here. Why did the world insist on dragging her back when she was in the embrace of such warmth?
She moved tentatively, only barely opening her bleary eyes to find the warmth she was wrapped around in her arms wasn't entirely human- coated in a thin bristle of tawny fur and leopard spots the woman looked more like the Tabaxi Kathrine had been reading about than the red haired curvy woman she'd met last night. Or was it this morning? She sighed, pressing her forehead to the back of the woman's coppery mane trying to will the world away for another few hours. If she was patient and good and if she wished hard enough, it would and she'd be left to her silent piece of heaven for a little while longer.
The woman stirred a little forcing Kat to open her eyes, to reconsider the situation. She was a wizard, she'd been more than willing to indulge Kat's fantasies and yet she hadn't even so much as given her name. Nor had Kat, if she remembered correctly. They'd talked for hours and-
Kat looked over her shoulder toward the dresser beside the bed. A golden sextant turned slowly on an intricate silver dias who's inlays had begun glowing a faint orange between last night and this morning. They were fading into a shade of soft red even as Kat drew in a breath and sighed it out. Just beyond the sextant, a small hourglass continued to empty the top half of its sand into the bottom. She was loosing time.
Slowly she disentangled herself from the polymorphed woman and pulled the covers back, sipping out into the cool 'morning' air. Though time didn't pass normally in the planar inn, Mitchifer kept a set of rooms for humans that mimicked the passage of normal time so people could keep their bearings early in the morning or late at night. Supposedly it made the transition back to the Prime Material just that much easier. Right now it just gave Kat goose bumps. She tucked the blankets around the woman's form and started towards her equipment, stopping when she saw her reflection in the mirror.
It was already shaping up to be an odd day.
Not that standing naked in front of a mirror in a bar sandwiched between multiple planes was somehow normal to most people but it was made more odd by the trepidation that flowed through Kathrine's mind. She'd been planning the trip for weeks, making sure all the preparations for her were in place and double checking the planar coordinates to her destination; accounting for shifts in the multiverse and the alignment of her destination to the Prime, her window of opportunity was opening within the hour yet she still had doubts.
Finally getting up enough courage to actually leave Arabel and Cormyr proper was something else, entirely. One could spend all eternity preparing for any possible outcome yet ninteen years of her life had weathered many storms and seen many beautiful sunrises but in the end it was the grey clouds hanging thick in the sky that refused to break which had finally chosen her path for her. In a world that refused to see Lathander's light break the sky, not because it was impossible but for the simple avarice that so many would be rulers shared and pressed upon their people.
And Jezebel. . .
She sighed softly bringing her slender arms over her breasts and closed her eyes imagining they were her hands. For all her faults, and there were many, none of them could've washed away the warmth Kathrine still felt for her. The had saved her soul from the pact in the end, it was something she could hold on to but if she imagined hard enough she could feel the woman's hands holding her close in the muted light, her sweet smelling hair brushing against her cheek and those soft words meant only for her. . .
But that was gone. Just like her parents. She couldn't pretend otherwise anymore.
"Mrrrrr. Good morning. . ." A sultry purr cooed in her right ear as powerful hands came around her stomach and a firm pressure of someone who's weight was easily several times Kathrine's own pressed against her back. Comforting and reassuring, the fine fuzz of the taller woman's body bristled against Kat's pale skin causing her to shiver involuntarily. A split second later a thick tail coiled around her thigh, pulling her closer still into the stronger woman's embrace while her tongue brushed Kat's earlobe from behind leading into a playful kiss planted on her ear.
Kathrine couldn't help but sink back against the woman, still afraid to open her eyes even though she knew what she would see. What she wanted, though, was different. She wanted what she'd never have again. She wanted to see blonde hair, those pouted lips and brown eyes that held the commanding malevolent stare which put her in full control; full of strength and fire- Those same eyes that stared at her from atop the pyre as the flames rose. . .
Kat's eyes shot open to stop the memory from flooding back.
Grey eyes, her own, the first thing she saw; bright green slitted eyes next to her watched her, patient and curious. The woman holding her nuzzled against Kat's cheek with the faint bristling of ultra fine whiskers against her flesh, her feline features echoed in the strength of her grip as her hands came to hold Kat's hips from either side. The woman's bright red hair mingled in to Kat's platinum blonde creating a strawberry shortcake color that she really hadn't recognized before but somehow made her smile at the thought. The woman continued to purr lightly against Kathrine and inhaled deeply as though trying to memorize her scent. When she opened her mouth again, Kat turned her head upward to bear her throat to the woman submissively, without a moment's hesitation, the woman sunk her teeth into Kathrine's neck, her sharp canines pressing deep into her flesh threatening to break the skin. Kat's heart hammered against her chest at the sudden loss of control.
"Mmph." The woman pulled her close, leaning back to take some of Kathrine's weight, still holding her close to her fur covered body. With a soft sigh she pulled back releasing Kat's neck and kissing her ear before she pulled her into a hug, spinning her on her heels without giving her any choice in the matter. "I've been waiting to do that since last night. . . You're definitely a Chauntean. . . So very. . . giving."
Kat whimpered softly, pressing her temple to the taller woman's fuzzy chest. She bit into her lower lip, finally after several moments she brought her slender hand up around her shoulders in an awkward hug. She sighed into the woman's chest choking back a light sob. She couldn't bring it out, not to this woman. She didn't need to know about. . . those things.
"What's wrong, sweety?" The throaty rumbling purr filled Kat's ear with sudden concern.
Kat swallowed and looked up to meet her eyes. The formerly slitted appearance of the woman's eyes had turned wide and round, completely human. Kat sighed again as she knew the polymorph spell was beginning to fade. "T-. . . Thanks?"
"Oh no, sweety. . . Thank you." The woman pulled her tighter even as the fuzzy feeling began to fade into warm, soft flesh. Kat closed her eyes, resting her head on the woman's shoulder still a bit disconnected from what was going around her. The woman stroked her back gently. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Farthest from it. She was pretty sure she said it out loud.
They stood there in front of the mirror holding one another for a few minutes before the woman whispered. "Do you have my glasses?"
Without pulling back, Kat snapped her fingers producing the half moon spectacles between her delicate fingers in front of the redhead. She nuzzled into her hair with a long, sigh.
"I really wish I knew that spell. . ."
"It's not a spell." Kat whispered from some far away place in her mind. "My brother liked slight of hand."
The woman chuckled against her with a definite warmth. She could feel the stiffness in the woman's muscles, tension that somehow wasn't there before but it didn't seem to bother her, instead she brought her arm around Kat's back. "I probably don't want to know where you hid them, then, do I?"
Kat looked at her blankly and pulled back to kiss her tenderly. Her hands came down to the woman's hips and then up her back so she could hug her close. "I. . . s-. . . I need to get going soon."
"I know sweety."
"I. . . Don't want to."
"Yeah you do." The woman cupped her cheek gently, smiling a warm, motherly grin. "I can see it in your eyes. Well, no that's not right. I can barely see your eyes right now. Would you mind?"
"Oh! Uh. . . oops. Sorry." Kathrine felt her cheeks warm as she opened the glasses and set them gently on the woman's nose. She knelt a little bit so she could look up at her though Kat was just slightly taller than the woman now in her normal form. Her playful green eyes watched Kat with a soft re assuredness of someone many times her age and though she was- Kat guessed- completely human, she still had that kind of ethereal grace given to those of elven descent. Kat was kind of envious of her beauty but at the same time, maybe some things were just better left unknown. "Um. . ." She licked her lips. "I. . . uh. . ."
"Tammia Goodmanner." The woman didn't seem the least bit phased by the awkwardness that bristled over Kat's nerves.
Kat swallowed and nodded. "K. . . Kathrine. Kathrine Stoneriver."
She chuckled and kissed her forehead. "Pleasure to meet you, sweety. But hey, you should probably get going. It's nearly daybreak on the Prime."
"Huh? Oh crud." Kat looked back over her shoulder toward the dresser beside the bed. A golden sextant turned slowly on an intricate silver dias who's inlays had begun glowing a faint orange between last night and this morning. They were fading into a shade of red even as Kat drew in a breath the red became stronger. Just beyond the sextant a small hourglass trickled the last of its sand into the bottom. "Aww crap. I'm so gonna be late!"
In a flurry, she bounced back from the woman- from Tammia- giving her an apologetic smile before she dived for her back pack which had somehow made its way behind the couch by the door. Next to that her velveteen pants and light cotton shirt lay crumpled atop her wool coat. Without even thinking she dived over the back of the couch and grabbed up her shirt, slipping it over her head. She'd need a bath but that was something she could get when she arrived in Chult. She had her hot weather clothes packed already and plenty of water. Reagents were in her coat and-
And what was she forgetting?
She laid there over the back of the couch for a moment before becoming keenly aware of the cool breeze against her naked bottom. It couldn't have been that important, she decided and hauled her bag over the back. She turned around to see Tammia looking at her with a catty smile. Dressed in her red and black silk outfit that displayed her abundant cleavage behind a thin veil of lace with a matching tabard between her legs, she looked every part the bard Kat had thought her to be. "Huh?"
"Oh nothing, just admiring the view." She smiled.
Kat's cheeks warmed a bit more as she tugged her pants on in a hurry. "Um. . . I should be back a few weeks. . . W- Who knows, right?"
"If you say so, sweety." The woman went about primming her hair behind her ears with a faint sigh. "Have you got everything?"
"Yeah, I think so. . ." She stood up and grabbed her coat quickly pulling it over her self. As she did so the leather belt inside tightened over her hips and clipped together adding the reassuring weight of her brother's Tressym longsword to her left hip while she did a quick final pat down ensuring all the pockets inside her coat contained her reagents, just incase. "Yeah. That's everything." She turned to grab her pack and slipped it over her shoulder. "Um. . ."
"It's fine, Kathrine." The woman stepped up to her and hugged her unabashedly. "I had a really good time and I'm sure we'll do it again some day." She kissed her cheek and ruffled her hair.
Kat stood looking at the woman oddly, unsure how to respond. Finally she managed a lame half smile and kissed her deeply. Passion was never her strongest suit after Jezebel but she could still enjoy the sensation of being close. She wouldn't loose that too, she had decided. When she broke the kiss she smiled a little. "It was really nice to meet you."
"Have a safe trip, beautiful Chauntean."
She giggled. "Yeah, thanks." Despite the finality of the words it still gnawed at her that there should have been more attachment. She barely knew this woman and somehow in the span of a few hours she'd managed to make a friend and. . . a lover? Or was it really something so shallow that she couldn't even give it a name? They looked at one another, neither speaking. Deep in the woman's eyes a simple passivity watched Kathrine with a reassuring approval that said neither one of them was wrong and that in the end everything was okay. She sighed, not knowing what else to say. "I. . . should go."
Tammia leaned in and kissed her again, cupping her cheeks and holding her. Then just as abruptly she pulled back. "Yes you should before we repeat last night with you on the bed this time." She laughed a melodic tone and shooed her towards the door. "Git!"
Kat tugged her pack straps tight, shying away from the woman's tone ever so slightly even though she could feel the joking nature of it, something in her obeyed without question and she slipped out into the hallway. She glanced back, memorizing the woman's soft features and the smile that graced her supple lips. A beautiful sight to remember the evening. Kat decided and gave a little wave.
The hallway emptied out into an expansive main meeting room filled with a multitude of creatures from every corner of the multi-verse. An angel and a sphinx played chess at one table while a beam of light and some kind of bear like creature traded stories over a glass of Purewater. Adding to the surreal nature of the place a talking rug on the floor listed the house menu to a weary human traveler who, Kat was sure, had wandered in by accident judging from the stupified look on his face. The air smelled of warm sulfur and brimstone but Kat was sure none of the more infernal patrons lingered while the angel was here. At least she hoped not anyway.
Not that violence was an issue, powerful wards woven into the fabric of the false wooden walls didn't allow for deliberate bloodshed but the debates, sometimes lasting for months on the Prime Material plane could be heated enough to clear the entire place which usually resulted in the proprietor kicking the offending parties out. Kathine waved to the sphinx and angel in passing, trying to discern who he served but giving up after a second when she saw he was too invested in their game to look at her.
The open nature of the main room was further reinforced by the high ceiling that held a second level ringing the main dining and reception area. Draped over the banisters were various shimmering sashes displaying dogma of one deity or another along with corresponding offerings of paper sheets with prayers, dried goods or blood and other substances. Further out of view Kat was sure she could hear people moving and talking amongst themselves, casing strange shadows over the cone shaped chandeliers above.
She stopped just long enough to deposit her last twenty five coins in the drop box by the front door, murmuring "Chultan coinage please." After a couple of seconds the bottom of the box opened up releasing a small burlap sack that felt slightly lighter but contained the appropriate coinage for the region. She started counting it on the way out the door into another hallway flanked on either side by a slew of doors. Forty six coins in all. If she was lucky it'd be enough to buy her a meal and a safe place to sleep once she got to Port Nyranzaru. Once there it was just a matter of getting maps or perhaps a guide and setting out.
Kathrine stopped at a particular black door to her right about half way down the hall. A plaque beside it read in a multitude of languages 'Outgoing'. She opened the door into an empty little room about ten paces on a side with a rather unimpressive glowing portal in its center. Ringing the portal were faded diagrams and ashen circles burned into the floor by the portal's activation magic. The concept was fairly straight forward, even to a mundane mindset; one wrote the coordinates in sand around the portal, spoke the activation words and by entering it they'd wind up at their destination. She licked her lips and steeled herself.
Reaching into her pocket she withdrew a hand full of sand and began drawing the circle from memory, closing her eyes so as not to be confused by the burned in images on the stone floor. The trickle of sand through her gloved hands tickled a little making her think of Tammia's beautiful fur pattern like some distant unexplored dune swollen to hold a beautiful desert flower meant only for her. It was the dream, in many ways, that'd caused her to pursue this route. The dream of the jaguar woman in the mushroom forest that had stopped her from going forward without paying her toll. It was since that waking dream after Jezebel's execution that she'd been unable to let go of that image, to find anything but restlessness and though she tried to get it out of her head, two years had done nothing to quell the curiosity; who was this creature that could live in her dreams and why was she still there despite multiple attempts to work her out of her mind?
Was it a sign from Chauntea to spread Her teachings to the jungles of Chult? Kathrine could think of no other reason and though she was little more than a simple acolyte in the larger scale of things, she was still a wizard by training. Her logical mind had countless explanations but none of them came close to the gut feeling that told her she was being sent to bring this 'woman' under Chauntea's care and teaching.
Tabaxi. That was the name they used to describe themselves; the cat people of the jungle. The eerie obsession that burned at the back of Kat's mind since that dream. The one she couldn't let go of no matter how many times she tried. But that was soon at an end. Soon she'd understand what she was meant to do and soon. . . Perhaps soon, she'd find a poultice for Jezebel's loss.
Kathrine stood upright examining her circle carefully. Satisfied, she removed the gems she'd brought with her, fishing around in her palm for a honey colored one and holding it up to the light. She began murmuring the coordinates and at once the sand circle in front of her began glowing a soft straw color to match the gem. Planar coordinates were a tricky thing even if one knew where they were going it was easy to slip a movement of the tongue and wind up entire regions off direction or, if you were unlucky, in the entirely opposite plane you had intended. As she continued a faint nagging sensation tugged at her even while the honey'd glow of the gem faded into a soft pale blonde that nearly matched her hair. The circle at her feet began to glow brighter and soon the portal's own color began to change to match the luminance of the room. What was she forgetting?
Before she could articulate the final syllables something hard knocked into her backpack sending her forward into the portal. At the same time she heard the door opening and Tammia's voice: "Hey, you forgot your sextant-" But it was too late, Kathrine was tumbling forward toward the portal. Pinwheeling her arms she tried to throw the gem aside hoping she'd be able to get rid of it and the portal wouldn't active. It stayed firm in her hand. She screamed involuntarily.
In the next beat she was tumbling into a void cursing Beshaba.