Chapter 2

A cool breeze swept over her as she stepped through the portal and appeared just outside an inn in one of Arabel's central districts. The air was tinged with the smells of sweat and rotting waste in the gutters, along with metal oil. The soft clanging of a distant bell and clamor of early morning traffic brought with it a kind of subtle resonance. It wasn't that 'home' feeling of the village but it was familiar, like the face of an old friend that wasn't exactly friendly any more.

She hated it.

The dirty cobbles. The slowly rotting plaster of the inn. Even the freshly mended cloth banner above the door that read 'WILD GOOSE'. It was all in a perpetual state of decay just like the city itself. Why had she come back here? There were a million other places on Toril and yet she chose the one place that could have torn her heart from her chest simply by virtue of its stagnating filth. She should've known better.

"Just get what you need and go." She murmured to herself. She needed to focus.

Kathrine was careful to avoid the most prominent feature of the distict; the Mage's Guild tower which dominated the skyline with an archaic looking building that seemed totally out of place. It'd been years since she'd had anything to do with them yet something in the back of her mind still said He might be there. Gregorious Fallow had been a novice of no small power but as typical of most wizards she knew, he wasn't content to simply wield what he had. He wanted more. They always did. It didn't matter who got in his way or how they did it. Just that they were removed as quickly as possible.

Kat shuddered as she slipped into one of the lower cost clothes shops. The money Tammia had given her was more than enough to re-supply herself with new clothes, a good used rucksack, some medical supplies and basic camping gear. By mid morning she had been as well prepared as she was before leaving the first time.

However, throughout her travels to the shops, a subtle feeling kept nagging at her like she was forgetting something or someone had been watching her yet when she turned back there'd been no one there. Now, standing inside of Doretta's, she could feel someone watching her. Not through the large bay window but close at hand, almost within arm's reach. She turned around slowly, trying to appear interested in some of the lower cut dresses along the wall. Most of them were made of silk or other materials far too expensive for Kathrine but her original purpose had been trying to get her coat fixed; the elven seamstress was reputedly the best in Arabel.

Her eyes stopped at a particular dress along the left side wall. It was short. Too short. Barely a sleeve that would've stopped at someone's mid thigh and hardly enough fabric to do anything remotely resembling keeping the wearer warm. Oh, but it glittered. Even in the flickering light from the lamps, it sparkled a soft loam color and Kathrine found herself imagining what she might look like in it. She'd need a shirt. Maybe something tawny. And-

Where the hell would she wear something like that?

She scoffed to herself and looked around once more. Bree would want her to wear it, she'd almost but not quite demand she do. She would, of course, comply and though she'd hate herself for it, she knew the kinds of looks that Bree gave her. She genuinely liked Kathrine's body and somehow that approval, that desire had subtly wormed its way into her own heart. She was fit and healthy, why shouldn't she be happy in her skin? Besides, Chauntea had given her the body she had so she could carry out Her work when the time came. If anything, it was Her gift to Kathrine and that, perhaps more than anything, made it all right. Didn't it?

Kat bit into her lower lip as she thought about it. It made sense, in some way, that she'd been born with slightly wider than normal hips for her body size and longer legs. After all, she loved to run. She hugged herself with a small sigh. Of course it was all right. The gods didn't make anything without a purpose behind it.

"Madame?" A soft voice said from behind.

"Hm? Oh, um. . ." Kat swallowed when she saw one of Doretta's apprentices approach. She was young but bright eyed and well dressed. Her smile was almost infectious. Almost. "How'd it come out?"

The girl's smile faded somewhat. "Madame Doretta says it's very heavily damaged and the panels are going to need replacing new cut and fitting but she can do it!" She nodded emphatically. "Madame Doretta asks for two hundred and twenty five gold for the-"

"What?" Kat croaked. "T-"

"I'm sorry, Madame, but you'll get new panels and fresh lining."

Kat drew in a deep breath and sighed it out. Perhaps it really was time to let things go. "I'm afraid I can't afford that. . . Um. Has she started?"

"No, Madame. Should I tell her you can't p- er. She'll not need to do the work?"

"Please. And give her my sincerest apologies for taking up her time."

"Yes ma'am." The girl offered a waning smile and headed into the back room. She emerged a few moments later with Kat's coat drawn in chalk to indicate various stitch lines and other things Kat could only guess at. "Sorry it didn't work out."

"It's okay. Here. . ." She gave the girl a silver coin. "Dinner's on me, huh? Give your mistress my thanks, would you?"

"Oh! Thank you, miss. I will." Something in the girl's voice changed slightly, her careful demeanor changed to something much more fitting of a girl her age. "Have a good day!"

"You too. Thanks again." Kathrine folded up the ragged coat as she walked back outside, frowning to herself. It was one of a few things she still had to gather up but one of the least important. It shouldn't have bothered her so much but it did. How much had she already given up on this dive into madness? Of course, who did she really have to blame but herself? Bleh.

She stepped into the eastern market, now in full swing and bristling with adventurers coming and going. The Kest stalls were just to the left side and even though they were primarily blacksmiths, she knew they knew people who'd probably be able to help her with her next problem. As she approached one of the dwarves looked up at her curiously. A half-orcan man next to the counter was counting out some coins for a battle axe and to the right a human woman was trading in some smaller weapons that looked like they'd been freshly used.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes, uh, I was looking for someone who does work on sensitive equipment." She reached into one of her belt pouches and pulled out the battered planar sextant. "See, I need to get this fixed."

The dwarf looked at it for a moment. "What is it? Some kind'f egg timer?"

"Egg-. . . No. No, it's a planar sextant. A small model but-"

"Yer gonna want to find a mage, then. We don't do work like that here."

"No, I understand, but-"

"Next?"

"Hey, wait a minute! I just need a name!"

"A mage! Go to the Guild tower or something. Next!"

Kat frowned. "Come on, you must know someone."

"How much?" The half-orc said.

"Please, just one lead, I can pay you for your time."

"I said we don't do that kind of work, lass. You'll have to check with the magicers in the tower."

"How much?" The half-orc repeated.

"Huh?" Kat, only now paying attention to the man, looked up at him. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You're working, how much?" He looked her over slowly, his beady black eyes roamed her unabashedly before he asked yet again. "How much."

"What- working? Oh, you're looking to hire? Uh. . . I'm really not looking for work right now, but thanks." As she finished she packed the sextant back into its pouch with a sigh. "Maybe that woman over there, huh?"

He glanced over at her and shook his head. "Too skinny." His meaning dawned on Kat right before he looked to her. "How much? Twice."

"Uh. . . No, really, I- er. . . I'm not. I don't do stuff like that. No, no. I'm a wizard- a priest, first, but a wizard too and-"

Abruptly he raised his hand to take her shoulder. Kat was already flinching away when she heard it. The voice of an angel.

"I believe she said no." It was unmistakably confident, patient and friendly but with a subtle hint of danger under it all. Kathrine looked to see Bree holding the man's wrist firmly. He tried to jerk his hand free but she didn't even budge, as though she was made of granite. "I believe this is where you leave, good man." Even as she said the words she stepped between Kat and the half-orc, looking up at him.

There was a moment where he looked at her and started to bare his teeth but she never let him go. And in the next moment his face went slack, eyes wide with some hidden recognition and then, and only then, did she let him go. He back pedaled, half stumbled over his boots and turned to run. Before Kat could make sense of it, though, she felt Bree's warmth against her, a strong yet gentle arm wrapping around her shoulders and the soft purr of her voice. "So how much for an old friend?"

Kat whimpered as her will power dissolved into nothing.

She was done for.