The deep indigo of the fading night sky was losing its battle. The last remaining stars fought to be seen, as the darkness faded. Deep crimsons led the charge, lightening to brighter splashes of orange and vermillion before turning in jarring streaks of yellow where the water kissed the horizon. The sun's birth was reflected on the still waters, giving the impression, the entire world was burning. A light breeze, gentle as a lover's whisper, slipped across the flaming waters, tickling the slack sails. A stray piece of cloth danced in the breeze, reveling in the warm wind.

Faux knelt beside the wrapped body lying on the deck of the Moondancer, and tucked the offending loose end back inside. He ran his hand the length of the mummified body, looking for any other escapees. Tears clung to his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He wouldn't be weak. He needed to be strong to say good bye.

He stood up and gazed over the burning water, furious with himself. This was no fitting end for Lydia. She deserved the best. This felt like a betrayal, no matter that it made perfect sense.

He'd wanted to bury her properly, on land, but there was nowhere to do it. They were in the middle of the Kniwal Ocean, sailing as fast as they could for Eritall. The bare, rocky coast that sometimes came into view was no fitting resting place. He'd argued that they take her all the way to Eritall, but had lost that argument. There was no way to preserve the body, and the reality was, carrying a ripening corpse on a contained ship for the three week voyage was a risk for all of them. He understood the logic. He just hated it.

Captain Windbreaker had suggested a burial at sea in the customs of his homeland, a small seafaring island far to the west. It'd taken a while, but he'd finally agreed. They'd wrapped the body tight in strips of thick linen, taken from one of the ship's spare sails. Each member of the crew had laid a small token of themselves somewhere on her body and had them wrapped inside the layers of cloth with her. Memories from her friends and mementos from the strangers to take with her as she went to Jahlenea's embrace. Faux had cut a lock of his chestnut hair and wrapped it about the blade of one of his boot top daggers and placed it in her clasped hands, resting above her now still heart.

"I promise this won't go unpunished," he whispered to her, kising her cold forehead before the wrapping was complete.

Now, he stared down at the wrapped body, thinking for the thousandth time that this was all some horrible mistake. He had the same recurring day dream that the second they dropped her into the water she'd wake up, afraid and drowning. He shuddered and forced the image away. It was too late for that. She was already gone.

"The sun is over the horizon lad," Aboleth whispered into his ear, a reassuring hand laid on his shoulder. "Are ye ready?"

He nodded, without speaking, and looked up at the gathered crowd.

Thom and Jinx were standing together to his right. Thom looked uncomfortable and kept dry washing his hands and fidgeting with his belt. Jinx looked sombre, which surprised him, she wasn't the emotional type, but, her sadness at Lydia's passing felt legitimate. Aboleth stood next to him on his left and Grimwald next to him. The big man had been almost as heartbroken as the half-elf and even now tears flowed along his strong jaw. Faux still wasn't sure just what their relationship was, it felt more than that of a tavern owner and a bouncer.

Captain Windbreaker and several of his crew stood on either side, a show of respect that he appreciated. He thought he saw Ahanna in behind some of the sailors but he couldn't be sure. They hadn't spoken since he rescued her from Irbella's courthouse. He sighed, so many regrets.

"I have no idea what to say," he began, fighting to steady his voice. "I never thought I'd be in this position. I guess, I always kind of felt it'd be her doing this for me someday. There's nothing really that can prepare you for it. Lydia was my best friend, my lover, and my future. And she's gone. She was always honest with me. She was kind, decent, hardworking, and loyal. Knowing her made me want to be a better man because that's what she deserved." He drew a shaky breath as Aboleth laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"She died," he paused, an expression as if he'd just eaten something sour on his face. "She was killed, because of the type of person she was. Helping others without concern for herself. She was a hero. She will always be remembered that way and we are all better people for having known her." He bit back his anguish and nodded to Aboleth.

"Holy Mother, I commend to ye the body of Lydia Malir. A valiant and stronghearted woman, deservin' of a place in yer embrace. May ye provide strength for the people she left behind." He looked to Faux and then gave Grim a quick glance. "Her passin' was sudden and we weren't ready to let her go. From yer tender touch was she given life, and to yer tender touch she returns. Amen."

Faux walked around the body as the assembly of sailors backed away to give him space. Taking hold of the cask of rum that the body's feet were tied to, he lifted it from the deck, grimacing from pain as his shoulder pulled tight. He'd stubbornly refused to let Aboleth heal him, a childish gesture, until enough time had passed that it didn't mend completely. Thom, Grim and Aboleth picked up the body and carried it to a gate at the rails. They lowered it, gentle as they could, until it was bobbing in the still water.

Faux took their place at the gate as they backed away. He knelt on the deck and gave the wrapped body one last longing look. With a deep sigh, he dropped the cask into the water with a soft plop. It raced for the bottom, the rope going taut, and pulled Lydia's lifeless body with it to the murky depths below.

Faux stood against the rail at the back of the Moondancer, watching the wake the schooner made as it cut through the water. The water stilled temporarily as the ship sailed through, before swirling eddies and white froth moved in. In moments, the gentle swell of the sea erased all traces of the ships passing.

Is that all we are, he thought morbidly. Just eddies and froth. Swirling for a moment before vanishing without a trace.

A soft wind ruffled his hair and tugged at his cloak. The sky was dark, layered with thick clouds that promised rain before too long. He stared hard at the clouds remembering a conversation he'd had with Aboleth not too long after they'd met. The sky had been sunny that day following the death of the barmaid in Arbordale. The dwarf had said that the Blessed One provided the sun as a sign of strength. Only after the sorrow was too much to bear would she send the rains, a sign of her own weeping. He glanced at the rain clouds again and nodded; satisfied that even the Goddess would find Lydia's death worth weeping over.

"How are ye feelin' lad?"

He shrugged but didn't reply to the dwarf stomping across the deck behind him.

"I used to wonder what kept ye tied to that city," he continued. "With the size of the price on yer head why didn't ye just vanish to the other side of the world? I understand now. She was a strong woman."

"How would you know?" His tone was more sullen then he intended.

"Because I have a way of knowin' people."

"Is that so?"

"Aye. It is." He walked to the rail and leaned on it, gazing over the water next to the half-elf.

"Ye remember the first night we met? That night at the tavern. Yer first instinct was to talk those lads down, not go for the blood. Ye showed courage, but more importantly wisdom. And Father Iolder spoke very highly of ye."

"The blind cleric?"


"I was an assassin Aboleth. A killer for hire. I've stolen things and killed people. It doesn't matter that I found some way to justify them being killed. It is who I was. And it lead to this. Keswick wanted me dead because of what I did, my pride sent me into his house to finish the contract they'd used to set me up and his son got killed. And his vengeance got Lydia killed. If he spoke highly of me he really is blind."

Aboleth turned from the rail and stared at the half-elf. "Do ye believe that a man is what he is?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do ye believe that the man ye were, is the man ye were always meant to be, or is it possible that ye can be somethin' different?"

"I don't know." He shrugged, "I guess I always figured I wouldn't be doing that line of work forever. When we had the money put away Lydia and I were just going to leave. Start a new life somewhere else."

"I believe," the dwarf began, "that ye can't judge a man solely on his past. We all do things we're not proud of, we all fall down. It's how we get up, and what we do next, that makes the measure of a man. Father Iolder saw more than the darkness, he saw the spark of light. He's blind, aye, but sees truer than any man I've known. Ye've a good heart and a steady nature, and you're hurtin'. My heart breaks for ye lad, truly it does."

Faux opened his mouth and thought better of it, swallowing the venomous retort that sat on his tongue. His head sagged. The calm dwarf was like a balm, soothing the burn that threatened to consume him. "Thank you, Aboleth."

The cleric patted him on the back and resumed looking out over the water.

"What will ye do now?"

"I don't know," he said shrugging his shoulders. "I never thought that far ahead. I guess I just figured we'd get paid in Eritall for finding the shield and then I'd probably go back to Estermont for Lydia." He frowned, "But I guess that's done."

The two stood in companionable silence, watching the waters swirl and twist behind the ship.

"Ye can stay with us." Aboleth said after a moment had passed.


"Aye. We still have to bring the shield to the Pontifex, and Jinx is pretty concerned about that stone. Says we all should be. I think she might be right. There are dark times comin'." He paused and turned to stare Faux in the eyes. "I'd be honored to have ye by our side, a true friend we can trust."

He looked down at the dwarf, lost for words. Over the past two days his life had been shattered beyond recognition and he had no idea how to start putting it back together. He hadn't thought much about what came next, but how could he? Aboleth was offering him a new start, something to believe in. A chance to strike back at Keswick.

"I'll need some time to think on it." He replied.

"Of course, lad, of course. There's no hurry. The offer is there if ye feel like takin' it." He reached up with one hand and clasped the half-elf by the shoulder. He turned to walk away before pausing and turning back.

"Just one other thing." He reached down and pulled the sword that he'd taken from the body of Kymdos from the loop on his belt. "I want ye to have this." He handed the blade to Faux, hilt first.

Faux stared at the offered blade, dumbstruck. It was a longsword, but narrower and more slender than most makes. The blade gleamed in the dull grey light, as if rays of sun were shining on it despite the heavy clouds hanging low above. Elegant scrollwork sprawled the length of the blade along the middle. The handle was about a hand and a half long, and wrapped in a supple, soft leather, providing a comfortable and practical grip. The counter weight at the end of the hilt was shaped to form the clasped hands of Jahlenea. Worked among the scrolls running along the blade was a familiar phrase.

Dor farien protecto vixtan. Blessed are the Protectors.

"I can't accept this," He said, staring at the blade with awe. "This is a Protectors blade, I'm not worthy of that."

"Trust me lad, I've thought long about it. As a Protector myself, I can think of no one else who would do this blade proud." He held out the sword again. "Please lad, at least until ye can find somethin' to replace the ones ye lost."

Faux eyed the sword again. He reached out and took the blade from the dwarf's thick hand. His eyes widened in surprise at the weight and balance of the weapon. It was much lighter than it looked. In fact, as he hefted it, and moved it from hand to hand, it felt about the same weight as one of his former rapiers. It was perfectly balanced, responding to his every movement as if it anticipated what he was going to do. He lowered it by his side and looked over at the pleased looking dwarf.

"Thank you Aboleth." He paused, a wave of emotion numbing him, "I wish I could repay you somehow, for everything."

The cleric cleared his throat and said, "Well, there is one thing ye can do." His eyes met Faux's. "Go see the girl."

He stood outside the cabin door in the tight corridor running along the underbelly of the ship. His hand was poised in the air, waiting to knock, hesitating.

He hadn't spoken to Ahanna since they'd made it to the ship. It was his fault. He'd been avoiding her. He wasn't sure why. There was a selfish part of his mind that guilted him into believing if he hadn't gone to try and break Ahanna free, Lydia would still be alive. He knew it was irrational, and trying to predict how things could have played out was useless. And it wasn't as if Keswick hadn't forced him to flee The Leaky Net in the first place, separating him from Lydia.

He shook his head; this type of cyclic thinking had been keeping him awake at night and provided no answers for anything. Just useless self-pity. It wasn't fair to Ahanna, she'd been through a lot because of him too.

He rapped on the door.

"Come in please." A soft voice replied from the other side.

He opened the small door and eased himself into the tiny cabin. If you could call it a cabin. A narrow bunk lined one wall, just large enough to fit a single person. The other side contained a shallow closet for storing belongings. A tiny three-legged stool sat on the floor, opposite the door he'd just entered. He had to turn sideways to walk between the two sides.

He opened his mouth to say something but his voice dried up.

Ahanna sat cross legged on the bed, her head tipped towards the sound of him entering. She'd recovered well after Aboleth had healed her. All the fresh bruises and marks had vanished, and the older cuts had been reduced to fine, almost faded, scars. Her pale blonde hair was longer than he remembered and pulled back into a loose pony tail. Her soft features were gaunt, and her skin hung slack in places where she'd lost weight. Aboleth assured them, with some regular meals and exercise she'd recover.

Her full brown eyes hovered on a spot above his left shoulder. Despite Aboleth's healing, her eyesight hadn't returned. He'd overheard the cleric talking to Jinx in frustration, complaining about a blow to the head and how it'd been too long ago. His shoulders sagged, she'd never be the same either.

"I'm so sorry Faux," she said, breaking the silence with her sincerity. "For your loss."

He didn't know how to respond. He dropped to the stool, slouching against the side of the ship.

"How'd you know it was me?" he asked, his voice subdued.

"Aboleth has been the only person who's come by." Her head shifted, the blind eyes following the sound of his voice. "He's usually talking about getting me some exercise or another plate of food. You were much quieter coming in, and I can't think of anyone else who'd come to visit." She paused a minute before adding, "I was beginning to wonder if you would."

"I wasn't sure if I would either." He stared at the floor between his feet. A silence stretched out between them as he tried to compose his thoughts.

"You are the last person who has anything to be sorry for." His voice cracked. "If anything, you should hate me more than anyone else alive."

"Why?" she asked, a soft whisper.

"What do you mean why? You were tossed in a prison and beaten blind. Your father was killed. All because I stopped by your father's shop that night. I destroyed your life."

"Is that why you've been avoiding me?"
"I haven't been-" he stopped. She'd know the lie.

"Or is it because you feel like by trying to free me, you let Lydia die?" The words hung in the air. Having her voice his own thoughts made him feel even worse than thinking them in the first place.

He shrugged before realizing that she couldn't see the gesture. "I don't know." He looked to the floor again. "Maybe."

"We've both lost Faux." She shifted her position on the narrow bed and turned her head towards him. "Would you feel better if I told you that I hated you with all my heart, and I could care less if you were ever a part of my life again? That I pray to Jahlenea every minute of every day that you'll fall over the rail of this ship and drown?"

"Not really. But I'd understand."

"Well it wouldn't make me feel any better either. So, if those feelings don't help either of us, what use are they? I didn't have to help you that night, and I could have left you to those guards who broke in. But I didn't. And I don't regret it. Life is too short to live it full of regrets."

He snorted, unable to suppress a grin, "You're starting to sound like Aboleth."

"He is a fascinating character." A small smile of her own creased her face. "I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like him."

Faux thought about the sword resting back on his own bunk, "He certainly is." He fidgeted as another silence descended on the tiny room, a more comfortable one this time around.

"So what's next?" he asked, happy to be taking with her.

"I think I'd like to try and regain some strength. Would you be kind enough to help me walk the ship. I love the feel of the wind and sea but I can't walk as freely as I used to."

"It'd be my pleasure."

She held on to him to steady her steps as he wrapped an arm around her. Together they left the cabin and headed for the steps leading to the deck above.