"I often wonder what it must be like to be a more competent mage or a better priest, hells even a better person. It's not that I'm bad at any of these- Chauntea blessed me with many gifts for which I am eternally grateful- it's just that I always feel as though I should be doing more, I should be more. I have a hard time looking in the mirror sometimes because of it. I mean how often do you hear your patron say to you 'you've done a very bad thing' and still feel their love for you?
It's the maternal energy that warms our hearts and asks us to be giving to our community, to provide as She does, and to forgive the trespasses of those who walk the darker path of life. To be the patient, guiding force of gentle change rather than the angry hammer that forces supplication to prevent divine wrath. These, I believe, are the fundamental tenants of our Lady. She has been here long before us and will continue to long after we're gone.
Ultimately, we're all part of one large community and like any community, sometimes we run into problems. Our current problem is one of greed and the sheer potential of what we're being given. How can you even quantify something so dangerous and still remain sane? To touch the power of the gods yet still be bound to the mortal laws of nature and its cycles?
But there's a trick to all this. If you forget that you're a member of the community, you tend to act selfishly and in ways that might hurt others. This inevitably leads people to want to stop you from what you're doing if only to save others from being hurt.
I'm not saying she would've intentionally hurt anyone with it, I don't think she's like that, but I am saying that this is too much power for anyone to hold. There are some things that even Mystra keeps secret because they're too much for our feeble minds to wrap around.
I hold in my hand the key to make life spring eternal from any number of planes in Chauntea's name, to spread Her spirit to every corner of the multi-verse and maybe even bring us all to a greater awareness of how we can serve Her better. . . But if I'm being honest?
The only thing I want to do with this is conduct the ritual and find out how I can save Jezebel's soul; to put an end to the years of research, the empty sweaty nights where I clutch my pillow and cry myself awake. I want to know my life was worth her soul as I always knew it was. Right or wrong, she made a human mistake. She deserves the chance to make herself whole once more.
What I said about community, I meant; one should always look out for the greater good of its whole. Falling into selfish ends only leads to the path of ruin, yet. . .
I can't help myself but to wonder, 'what if'?
The question isn't whether or not I would give my life for her freedom but whether or not I have the Strength and Courage to stand by my convictions; to help the one I Love. Or will I perform my Duty and do what is technically right and retain my Sanctity.
This isn't a crisis of faith. I know what I have to do.
And it kills me.
Jezebel, I'm so sorry."
-Diary of Kathrine Stoneriver
The acrid air whistled against Kats ears as she tumbled through the sky toward the deck of the ship below. All around her the sounds of combat echoed through the early morning haze; young black dragons swooped in on the invading ships as they launched spells at Bree's retreating vessel. Kat glanced up just once before she was about to land. The yellow portal that'd brought them all here was starting to close but she was just a hair quicker. She was going to make it.
But was Kathrine?
She pivoted her body around so she could land on her feet but the ships captain, an older man in a brown coat, began turning the ship upward to meet her landing. It was a short vessel, perhaps a quarter the size of Bree's, but it's deck was long enough that she could slide down it and probably not break her leg. Apparently the captain had been counting on exactly that. Some part of her wanted to smile.
It was then that she saw the black dragon lunging for her.
She reacted on instinct. Curling into a ball, her hand grabbed for her sword but she didn't have time to draw it as her foot touched the wood of the sloped deck. It was awkward and immediately her weight came down hard when her ankle was bent at the wrong angle. She barely felt it through the burning haze of adrenaline. She grabbed the railing instead and pushed off, throwing herself overboard but out of the dragon's reach. He had just enough time to realize what was going on as Kat hooked her leg over one of the rail posts and began the incantation of a spell she'd always prayed she'd never have to use.
Phantasmal Killer was an illusion based spell, a school she rarely practiced outside of the absolute necessity of Invisibility. Color Spray was a close second for its ability to render potential attackers inert without killing them. Unlike either of those spells, however, the Phantasm was designed specifically to kill. She loosed it in a breath. The dragon pitched upward to avoid it but she could see the faint ribbons of black energy trailing after him like shadowy snakes flying through a sea of orange and yellow.
The ship began righting itself, forcing Kat to dislodge herself or be forced to continue hanging upside down. She slipped in between the rungs of the railing just in time to see one of the dragons roar a cry of agony and stark terror. The shriek shattered the combat for just a second before the massive creature plummeted out of the sky towards the swamp below. Kat blinked. She stared, mouth agape.
"Down!" The man shouted.
Kat ducked and the ship's speed increased. She dared a glance up to see the underside of Bree's ship, already half way through the portal. The once intricately etched cherry wood was now burnt and smoldering in many places with streaks of soot cut along its hull. The captain, Mytel, had set the ship close enough so they could slip under it without making targets of themselves and still get through the portal.
"This is about the relic, right?" Kat shouted.
That, more than anything, made Kat's stomach clench. Had she just committed a huge error? If he didn't know anything about it, he hadn't been trying to warn her against Bree, which meant it was possible Chauntea had no knowledge of the relic and she'd betrayed a genuine friend in the process of trying to 'protect' the multi-verse. No. She was overthinking things. She had to be. "Yeah! The Oghman relic!"
"We'll talk about this later-" His features slackened as he looked back. The remaining dragons had turned their attention away from the ships attacking Bree to aim directly at Mytel and Kat. His jaw clenched and in a barely audible whisper, he muttered. "Shit."
Kat grabbed the rail and hauled herself up. "I- oh. . . oh boy."
At once the remaining seven dragons spit long streams of thick acid towards them. Kat threw her coat up to protect her face, knowing it would do no good. She hadn't had an elemental ward active in days. All she could hope to do was be alive long enough to get to a priest and bear a life long disfigurement for her choice of spells. If she was lucky.
Something strong grabbed her. She yelled instinctively, expecting pain. There wasn't any, though. In the next instant she was falling sideways. Human arms held her close to a human chest. Air ripped her hair back but there was no pain, no burning.
Kat opened her eyes experimentally to see they were falling downward through a sea of thick clouds. She screamed.
"That hurts, you know." Mytel held her firmly even as she squirmed and flailed.
Thunder crashed nearby. They fell faster. They were going to die, there was no doubt now. Kat took a deep breath to steady herself and hooked an arm around the man, swallowing. If she was going to die, at least she could do it in the company of a servant of Chauntea. Maybe it was destined. Nobody'd find the relic now, surely. She'd actually done pretty well, all things considered.
"You're taking this pretty well." Mytel said calmly. "I expected more screaming by now."
"N- Not much point, is there?" She licked her lips. "At least no one'll get to it. That means a lot."
"We'll talk about that when we land."
"Land? You mean. . . Wait, you mean we're not going to die?"
He snorted softly but his voice was warm. "I'm in no hurry to be with our Lady, I don't think you are either, are you?"
"N-" There were a number of answers to that question, Kat wasn't ready to voice any of them. Instead, she grabbed the man tighter and sucked in a breath. "How're we going to land and not die?"
They fell for several more minutes in silence, holding one another close and sharing each other's warmth against the biting chill of the wind. Mytel broke the silence between them with a quick, clipped. "I hope your faith is as strong as your legs."
Without warning they plunged through a thin veil of liquid. It wasn't hard like she'd have expected but gave easily, pulling gently on them and siphoning some of their momentum. It pulled on them more and more until they were all but stopped in a formless void. Mytel let her go and planted his feet under himself showing Kat she could do the same.
"Where are we?" She whispered tentatively.
"Honestly not sure. . ." He glanced around. "I bought the map from a couple of elves who said this'd take us to Dritan." Another quick look and he shrugged. "Are you alright?"
"Y- Yeah, are you?"
"Fine and dandy." His voice was slightly gravely but pleasant and soothing like a patient father. "So, I take it you're no longer keeping company with the pirate woman?"
"Something like that- um. You said you weren't after the relic?"
"Yes, what is that thing you keep talking about?"
"L- Let's worry about that later, huh? When we're out of here. . ."
"No, I think it best we discuss it now. I was sent here to bring you into the fold, miss Stoneriver, but if you're in possession of something dangerous, I need to know."
"Into the fold, huh?" Kat fidgeted a little. "Kindda loaded, don't you think? I mean, I don't really know you and-"
"You know enough. Just like any of us." He reached into a coat pocket and withdrew a couple of seeds, tossing them to the non existent ground. Instantly they expanded to take the form of a dog with bright glowing eyes. He knelt down beside Mytel and looked up expectantly. "Would you find us a portal, please?"
The dog yipped softly and started off at a run trailing a faint glimmering shadow behind it.
"Neat. But uh. . . I mean no offense, mister Mytel, but I really don't know you and this whole situations been one mess after another."
"True enough. It's been an interesting run. You know, I was almost sure we would've spoken at the World Serpent, but then there was that woman. . ." He pursed his lips ever so slightly. "What was her name? Charming girl, red hair. Followed a Hin deity of some sort?"
"Uh. Wh- Who?"
"The one you took to your room." There was no condescension in his voice but a subtle kind of humor. "You remember her name, surely?"
"I-. . . Erm."
He sighed. "Kids."
"Hey! Who're you to judge me?" She took a step forward, sending a spear of pain up through her ankle and leg. She winced and withdrew, doing her best to mask her discomfort. She didn't need to advertise her pain if this man wasn't who he'd claimed to be.
The man straightened out his coat looking at her with a patient smile. He really did look like her father but she wasn't ready to just roll over and accept his view of her life. By the same token, however, he hadn't really judged her so much as made a general comment. Maybe she did have some room to be a little graceful. When he spoke again his voice was calm and casual. "Miss Stoneriver, we both know you're not as tough as you pretend to be. Even if you were, we all need our Lady's grace now and then. Could you imagine a life without Her touch in it?"
"Of course not but I don't see what that has to do with my choice of company-"
"I never said anything about that; who you sleep with is your business." He shook his head. "Listen, I'm here to help you-"
"Then can you help me get back to the Prime? We need to get rid of this relic before someone finds it and gathers up the reagents to-"
"I think we're on two different pages here." He sighed. "Hold on." No sooner did the words leave his mouth, then his dog trotted up and nuzzled his hand before pointing in direction behind them. "Go on." He turned to follow the dog and motioned to Kat to do the same. "I was asked to help you find your way before you did something foolish."
"Foolish?" Kat took a step after him on her sprained ankle and strangled a whimper in her throat. "I- I can't imagine what that'd be-"
"Oh, I think you can. That's neither here nor there, though." Without looking back he turned his head just slightly to regard her. "Is it broken?"
She sighed. "No. I don't think so."
"You'll be fine, then. We've a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it. . . I'd like for you to come with me, hear me out and if you don't like what I have to say, you're free to walk away. Fair?"
"Y- Yeah, more than fair. Um. . . Thank you, by the way."
"Well, you kind of did show up at just the right time. Or was that planned?"
This time he did look back at her and smile. "Our Lady is a patient one, isn't She? The best laid plans of men and mice and all that."
"So She. . . She sent you?"
"You might say that, yes. So, we're coming full circle, is this relic dangerous?"
"I- I think it is. It's only in how its used that makes it dangerous."
He walked and Kat hobbled in silence for a few moments before he slowed his stride, offering his hand. "Perhaps that's what She meant, then. Tell me, have you used it?"
"N- No." She pulled away looking at him uncertainly. "I uh."
"Had planned to, yes."
"N- I thought about it, yeah. But I can't do that. . . I mean, the requirements are really heavy and if someone stopped me, I mean it could fall into the wrong hands."
Mytel nodded along slowly, waiting until she finished before choosing to speak. "So, you never stopped to think if it should be used in the first place, but rather about the requirements and the logistics."
Kat frowned. "I-. . . Yeah, I guess not." She rubbed the back of her neck. "Well, uhm."
A soft smile pulled at his lips. "Maybe that's what I was to stop you from doing. You've made quite a few mistakes as it is, don't you think?"
She swallowed. "I've made a few, yeah, but. . . I mean. . . What're we talking about here, really? Jezebel?"
"Ah, yes, the condemned." He sighed. "Such a tragic thing to happen to a soul, but who're we to judge the shortcomings of man's lust for power. Our lot is to bring them to Her, not make excuses for why they are the way they are." Something in the tail end of his words rubbed at Kat's nerves. It was condescension and judgment. Maybe not all that undeserved but who was this man to damn her? "Just as yours is, priestess. Or have you forgotten?"
"I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what you're getting at."
"I'm here to offer you a chance, miss Stoneriver, to serve Chauntea with the faith and vigor you use to try and save those who have no purpose being saved. Your heart is in the right place but your methods need work. I'm here to help you learn new methods and grow. In short, our Lady wished to make you into an agent for Her work." He paused, letting it sink in. "I'd be your direct mentor until your training was complete. Does that sound like something you'd pursue?"
"I. . ." She took a deep breath and studied his face for a moment. He could've easily been lying to her but it was more likely that he honestly believed what he was telling her. She wanted to believe it, too, but she couldn't fall into that trap yet again. She'd believe Bree and it'd turned out she was a megalomaniac. Who's to say this man wasn't any different? "I think I need to get this artifact out of the minds of people before I can commit to anything, mister Mytel. If someone finds out what this thing does, or if I give in to my temptation. . . I mean, could you imagine the damage that could be caused?"
"Is that what she had planned? Wanton destruction and never ending chaos?"
"Um. I- I really don't know."
He narrowed his eyes ever so slightly as something flashed in his brown depths. Challenge. "Then how do you know-"
"Because she lied to me to get what she wanted! Cripes, I'm tired of being used by people I believe in. I'm sorry, mister Mytel, but I think for right now you're going to have to take a long walk just like I am."
"She won't be pleased." He warned.
"She knows exactly what I'm doing or I- I told her. Many times. Just like with Jezebel. Intentions not withstanding, I can get this thing rendered inert without anyone getting hurt or getting some super dangerous powers, you know? Tell me that isn't worth doing."
He simply looked at her like she was stupid.
"You don't get it, do you, this thing is dangerous in the wrong hands. Like, exceedingly dangerous. Bree was going to use it for something and I don't even know what. The Oghmans were ready to launch a war over a city to bring it back. People kill for power like this and now that I have it, I'm going to safe guard it for as long as possible. If only to protect the very gods that we claim to serve, mister Mytel."
With a long drawn sigh he motioned to the left. "As you say. . . The portal's that way. It'll take you to a city called Dritan. From there, you can get passage to any plane you wished. But I warn you, priestess, the ice you tread is thin and cracking." He rubbed at his eyes. "I really wish you'd reconsider."
"I'm sorry, but right now. I just- I just. . . I need to do this." Some part of her mind whispered in the back of her skull. I need to know she had a chance. She sighed. "Yeah, I'll get this taken care of and then, well, who knows, huh?"
"If that helps you sleep at night. But I warn you, the path of power is one full of corruption-"
"Mister Mytel, I'm a Stoneriver. We don't get corrupted."
"What about Jezebel?"
Kat winced. Her mouth opened to form a reply yet none came. He was right, of course.
"If you change your mind, I'll be here." He pulled a small folded letter from his pocket and offered it. "Don't use it unless you're absolutely sure, though. Alright?"
She nodded, hand numb as the realization hit her full force; she had accepted one of the truly corrupt into her family by virtue of her marrying Jez, and in so doing, she'd tainted their entire bloodline all the way back to the very first. She had to fight to choke her voice from her throat. "Ok-okay."
"Good." The man's shoulders slumped a little as he considered her. Several seconds ticked by in silence before he stepped in and hugged her close. "I'm sorry."
Kat sighed into his chest and returned the hug, loosing herself in a moment from some other life. One with her father. She had to pretend that he was, just for a moment. She needed him to tell her it was going to be all right. "I miss you." She whispered.