Chapter 1

3/3/1381 (Relative)

"I remember, not so fondly, when the Zhentarim came to Eveningstar to fortify a position outside of the village. They came with strong men in full platemail glinting in the morning starlight; wizards carrying staves that would make a War Wizard jealous To top it all off, they were seasoned with experience; lines drawn across their face with combat. and the blood of others.

The clatter drew out adventurers one by one. Before long, they outnumbered the Purple Dragons that'd stepped forward to defend the village. Paladins, soldiers, priests and mages among them, they would appear, by all rights, to be a shield against slavery and evil itself. The two groups stood before one another.

The Zhentarim were protecting their embassy, so they claimed. They would not be moved. . . It was at that point Lord Winter ordered the Purples to retreat to fortify the village. They outnumbered the Zhentarim, all of them together. They could have stopped it there.

Instead, I watched as good men turned away; I saw paladins turn in supplication. Priests lead the march back. The crowd grew more sparse and I stood there, trying to get them to stop. My feet were planted; I couldn't leave. I wouldn't. Not with my family having tilled the soil for so long and now buried within it. This was our home. This was my home.

I was given the ultimatum to leave or be treated as an enemy combatant. One of their men stepped forward, pulling on his gloves. "Do you want to die, girl?" I. . . I don't remember what I said. I know I couldn't pull the words from my throat. The disbelief hit me like a slap in the face and I still feel the sting even now. These men, these supposed chosen of their god had abandoned what it was they were meant for and here I was- a piddling nobody- standing in front of them.

Jezebel I never expected to help but it still hurt knowing she was so close yet wouldn't have lifted a finger. It was I, and I alone, that stood in front of them when it was all or nothing and it was my spells that brought their chosen to the dirt our family had lived for.

It wasn't about who could do what or proving anything to anyone. It was what anyone should have done that day. What kind of person can be still when people cry for help? Now of those same people, who will raise their voice when the enemy is still before the strike?

Somehow, though, they can band together when their self-prescribed enemy doesn't wear a human face. They can taunt and poison and attempt to subjugate monsterous races that make the gods blessed attempt to become more than their blood dictates they should be. What of those that call for the death of a 'monster' who repeatedly refuses to attack them? They need to take a serious look in the mirror. Is that voice one of conviction or convenience?

Well?

It's been one minute since my last drink."

-Diary of Kathrine Stoneriver

They were surrounded.

Fifty ships as big or bigger than Bree's own floated silently through the void like sharks who'd caught sight of movement. Catapults served as fins for some of the larger vessels, cocked back and ready to unleash their payload at a moment's notice. Those without them were patrolled by men and women in robes who'd already begun incantations of their own. Energy swirled about their arms and even the decks of their decks seemed to have a faint glow to them.

"Oh." Bree's full lips pouted as she gave the gathering a look. "Vaius, be a dear and bring me my brown pants."

There was a silent pause where even Kathrine's heart refused to beat for fear of being the instrument that unleashed so much pent up energy. In the distance, beyond the gathering of ships, Mechanus's endless series of gears churned out the precise tick of a passing second that lasted for eternity.

And at once everything erupted.

A string of magic lightning arced through the distance in the blink of an eye and splattered against the deck of the ship only feet from Bree. The woman didn't so much as bat an eye as the vessel pitched to the right sharply almost banking into a sideways turn. The angle exposed the left side of the hull to bombardment which the opposing ships were too happy to oblige.

Kat was about to say something when the first rock slammed into the hull. A deep, resounding thud echoed through the wood, vibrating Kat's teeth. She clutched the rail tightly only now realizing the reason for the turn. A quick peek over the side showed a massive crater right where the boulder hit. Right where Kat had been standing.

"Mister Nyx." Bree said with an eerie calm. "Find us an exit, would you?"

The sphinx had been hunched down in preparation to launch at the attackers but instead he swept his wings back and without even glancing at her, he drew up the floating map on the deck.

The ship listed at a wider angle to start a wide spiral above the city. Bree's hands came to rest on the prow when they came around to face the ships. Kat's fingers felt numb. Her legs throbbed and her mind reeled. There had to have been more than fifty. She'd been wrong. They were closing in on them now in a wide semi-circle leaving their only possible escape to the rear.

"We're being herded!" Kat glanced back. The skies were empty save for the gears of the massive machine plane.

"Very astute!" Bree smiled back at her. Why was she so calm?

The ship picked up speed heading straight for them with it's prow nose down just slightly.

Oh, no. "You can't be serious!"

Even Vaius grabbed the rail. "Oh, dammit." In another breath he was scrambling for the hatch down below deck.

"I'm a sucker for deep penetration." The woman clasped her hands behind her back. Head held high. She didn't flinch when another lightning bolt snapped over their head. "Nyx! An exit?"

Kat glanced back to see the creature drawing lines in the glowing map. He turned it over in his paw a couple times. Too slow. They were going too slow. He was going too slow.

The ship sped up a bit more and jerked just slightly to the side. A deep thump cracked in front of Kat. She looked forward again just in time to see a boulder tumbling downward to the city below. It flattened a smaller house near the edge. Kat winced. "Those poor people-"

"While I appreciate your concern for your fellow man, my good priestess. . ." Bree trailed off when six independent bursts of blue energy erupted amidst the ships and took flight. At first they were a pulse; a faint glow in the void. As they approached their forms became clear. Each of the six glows fanned out into four more pulses in the form of short snakes no longer than Kat's forearm. Their approach was slow but deliberate. They fanned out wider the closer they came. "I do hope you've a healing blessing or two prepared."

Kat launched off from the rail at a dead sprint towards the woman. She slid her hand into the hem of her skirt, pulling out a small wand that was still warm to the touch even after a week of being left unused. It was nearly out of charges, she knew it, but there might've been enough to take care of the woman and the sphinx.

No sooner did she have her wand than she was eclipsed by a shadow from behind. It sailed over the deck like a predator about to pounce on its prey. Kat looked up in time to see a construct, faintly humanoid but trailing smoke where it's legs should have been, roaring over them towards Nyx. The sphinx noticed too. He launched up to meet the challenger head on.

The ship's back end dropped slightly and it slowed but continued moving forward. Bree glanced over her shoulder at Nyx and the construct and then forward again. A couple steps behind, Kat tapped her with the wand and activated it by reflex. The shimmering full body bubble sparked to life around her an instant before the blue snakes crossed the prow and would have slammed into her. Instead they punched into the Shield and dissolved in a spectacular display of light and magical energy.

Bree gave a slight nod in thanks. A mechanical arm hit the deck behind Kat and slapped into her leg. She looked up to see Nyx holding the construct with his forepaws and pushing off with his rear, sending the husk of the thing off into the darkness.

"Hault!" A young man's voice shattered the moment of stillness. It was everywhere and nowhere. "By the order of the Church of Oghma, you will stand down-"

"I seem to have misplaced my attention span. Please excuse me while I go find it. You broke the agreement." Bree whispered to no one in particular. "Nice hair by the way, I take it your Loremaster wasn't happy with my answer?" She tsked.

Kat squinted, looking at the ship in front of the others. It was a small one, light and conceivably maneuverable. Standing on the deck of it was a young man in a sharp looking military suit. His hair was cut much shorter than Kat remembered him but the recognition was instantaneous. He had been the man that had tried to set up Bree in the ambush.

"There'll be a time when we both get tired of doing this. Shall we make it now or later?" Bree whispered again as the ship leveled out. Nyx landed on the deck and went back to the map.

"This is your last warning. Stand down or you will be destroyed."

"Not today, thank you!"

"Fifty sixth north. Up by ten degrees and to the right by five." Nyx grumbled. "You won't like it but it won't be here."

"Good enough."

Kathrine swallowed when the ship tilted downward just slightly. At once, it drove forward like a spike being hammered into a tree. Faster and faster, the massive wooden vehicle plowed through the empty space between them. A number of spells arced across the sky. More magic missiles. Another lightning bolt. A fireball. All aiming directly at the polished wood ship.

Kat clenched her hands. There'd be no way to prevent whatever damage they might do but she couldn't just stand there and let it happen. She exhaled sharply and focused her mind. Picking out targets even as the spells pounded into the ship she worked it out in her mind's eye. Distance, trajectory, time. She had it all in an instant. Her mentor had prepared her for combat as best she could and she'd seen enough of it to know when to act. All she needed was an opening.

The power of the ship's thrust became indomitable. Lightning and fire exploded across the hull sending sparks and embers into the air. They were trailing the static crackle of raw magic behind them like a firecracker counting down its final seconds before it would explode. In the multicolored trail burning behind them one could have easily seen the three of the occupants on the deck holding tight.

Her opening came without warning.

She saw a man in a brown coat on one of the smaller ships wrestling control of it from its female captain. He turned the ship at a sideways angle and plowed it into one of the larger ships nearby. The collision threw the wizard who'd been casting at them off balance and over the rail into oblivion. "Hey!" Kat shouted. It's that man from the bar!"

"Yes, remind me to send him a fruit basket."

The ships tightened their formation creating a wall of cocked catapults and more mages than Kat could count. Kat began the incantation. Aimed roughly where the ship was going to pass through and let it go. The energy swirled into being around the central ship and a darkness exploded around it so dark not even light from the casting mage could break it.

The man in the coat slammed his ship into another one and started at a sharp upward angle to ram into one above them. Kat began another preparation of Darkness while Bree increased their speed even more. Only ten paces from the lead ship, Kat let loose with the other Darkness aimed squarely at the small group of ships in front of them.

Chaos erupted in the ranks of the vessels as they tried to get away from the darkness before Bree's ship drilled a hole through it. Some crashed into others in their haste. Others simply drifted away but got caught up in the panic of the less disciplined captains. Splinters took to the air and the soft crack of wood hitting wood echoed throughout the sky like a forest of trees being felled in rapid succession.

Bree's ship sped up even more, creating a buffeting wind that swept her hair back behind her shoulders. They flew through the black hole Kat's spell had made and went blind in the inky darkness. In another instant they were through it and on the other side. The ship turned upward at a dizzying pitch that threatened to throw Kat off her feet. She grabbed the rail, hard. "Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap-"

The vessels not caught up in the panic had begun to turn around and give chase. Bree wasn't slowing down. The ship's rear end slid downward slightly as it banked under a massive cog and began a straight ascent, piercing between two larger platters. The wind generated by their speed ruffled Kat's ponytail and whipped it across her face and roared in her ears as they approached a massive green gear turning in the middle of an empty cog.

"Could you be any more obvious." Bree mused. "How close is the next one?"

"You wanted expediency."

"Touche."

"H- Hey, why don't we just cloak it. . ." When the two looked at her she smiled a little. "Leave it to me." The incantation came quick and ready to her lips. The gestures, with equal ease, brought the kiss of arcane energy to her lips and before she knew it she could feel the warm humidity of the cloud spell pulling itself from her lungs. She motioned towards the portal and Bree complied, circling it once in a lazy spiral. She blew the humidity out in the form of a massive vaporous cloud that billowed over every square inch around the portal obscuring it from anyone who might look on casually.

"I always loved a girl that was good with her mouth." Bree nodded as a smile lit her face. "Very good, miss Stoneriver." The ship turned upward slightly to angle itself over the portal before it pitched downward sharply and plunged through. A sharp crackle of power rippled over the ship as it continued its dive into a white open space devoid of clouds or forms of any sort.

Kat looked back the way they'd come to see the underside of several ships sailing over the portal at a blinding speed. Others limped behind the faster ones but nobody seemed to consider looking down. They'd escaped. For better or worse, they were free for another moment. "Holy crap."

Bree turned and leaned against the prow, crossing her arms under her breasts. She was looking at Kathrine with a smile. Kat felt a surge of relief wash over her like a tidal wave. They'd done it. Against any odds, they'd escaped. Through bravery and cunning they'd see another day and. . .

The emotions ran together. Her mind swam in a mix of scenarios that could have happened and how things could've gone horribly wrong. She ran up to Bree and hugged her without thinking. They were all alive and it was their teamwork that'd done it. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest but it was too late to be concerned or worried- there was no need to think through anything.

She kissed the older woman. Passionately.

Thinking was overrated.

Powerful arms came around her lower back and pulled her into the kiss, sealing their lips against any outside intrusion. For a moment there was nothing but that shared breath and the hot blood coursing through her veins. They'd survived and no one could stop them now. This moment was theirs.

It was a tiny thing. A flicker of thought, in the larger scheme of things but it felt right and whole. The woman's tongue was gentle but skilled and powerful in ways that made Kat want to melt. She wanted to give in to her silent temptation right then and there.

A low rumbling voice pulled her attention out of it, though. "We have work to do. . ."

Kat whimpered so softly the breath didn't quite form in her lungs. Bree wasn't letting go, though. So long as she didn't, Kat wouldn't either. She opened her eyes a little to see the woman looking at her with kind, patient eyes. It was an understanding. They needed to get things done. Business before pleasure.

But so what?

The hands slid free but Bree didn't pull back. She waited for Kat to. She knew exactly what chords to play to make Kat's heart sing or cry and just how to play them so that Kat would have to look like the bad guy. It was maddening the power the woman could hold over her without raising so much as a finger. It was also intoxicating.

As if she didn't have enough problems with intoxication.