“Thank you,” I whispered under my breath as I covered Braz’s eyes once and for all.
Apparently, he had lived a terrible life before Ginah had saved him. But he regretted the things he had done in the past. And for a moment, I had judged him for it— I had tried to condemn him for his sins.
But he had only been kind to me. He had always been so laid back. But when I saw him drinking himself to sleep every night, I knew he always had regrets. He condemned himself for what he had done, so why did I have to do that when I knew nothing of what he truly did?
What I did know about Braz was the man I had interacted with. The one who saved my life. So I thanked him as he was laid to rest.
I cast my gaze around the deck of the ship. There were so many bodies covered in cloth. So many people who fought for me, a kid that kept secrets from them. A kid that lied to them. But still, a kid that fought alongside them.
And I could only offer them my gratitude for what they did for me, and nothing else. They died for me— for the promise of a better life. All I could do now was keep my promise to those that were still alive. They had trusted me enough to see this through, I had to see my end through now.
I strode along the deck as I watched everyone pay their final respects to their friends. Their family. There was business I had to attend to with Ginah and Kai— both of whom survived the battle.
And I also had to thank Jack and Lisa too. Lisa stayed out of the fight, but the amount of help she had given me to lay this trap was worth all the gratitude I had. And Jack— perhaps I misjudged him. I still wasn’t sure why he hated Dwarves, but he wanted to resolve some unfinished business in Taw, and perhaps I could help him with that once we were there.
But for now, I said nothing to anyone. I just stood there in silence as the sombre mood washed over the ship, and everyone realized it was finally over. All that was left now was to move forward.
Lilith might or might not be dead— I highly doubted she was dead. But rather than being paranoid— rather than doubting everyone I knew— I was going to learn to trust. I would watch my back, of course; I was not going to believe everything a random stranger told me, however that did not mean I shouldn’t trust no one.
Now, I had people I trusted. I had… friends? Perhaps it was still too early to call Ginah, Lisa, and the others that— our relationship still predicated on the deal we had made. A Witch’s deal. My deal. But… my thoughts trailed off along with my gaze.
I glanced at Gennady; the Dwarf was standing to the side, also paying his respects to the fallen. He hadn’t once expressed any sort of apprehension towards helping me, even when it was revealed a Saintess was coming after my life.
If there was anyone I could consider a friend, he was one. Lisa and the others were allies for now, but over time things might change. And I thought I would rather like that. Being alone was an experience— an important one for me— but I could not act alone in this world. So I had allies now, and things were going to be different from before.
It would not be like with the Beastkin, nor would it be like with the Dark Crusaders. That was what I swore to myself.
I will do things right this time.
When we returned to land, we did not go to the hideout we had been using for the last month. Instead, it was a small encampment closer to the city of Luke, but just as well hidden. This was where most of the noncombatants had fled to a week ago when I was passed out, and the rest followed shortly after.
The reaction to our return was a mixed one; on one hand, they were glad that the plan worked out just fine, but on the other, they could not celebrate for all the dead that had been incurred. It wasn’t a complete slaughter— yet it was still a lot of dead considering the number that had come with us. So it was more of a subdued relief.
We buried the dead later that day. I thought they would have cremated the bodies since that was the common funeral method in this world. It was seen as a way of returning the spirits of the dead to the Goddess of Light by lighting them on fire. But Ginah didn’t believe in that.
If it was as simple as performing such a ritual to cleanse a soul of their sins, then she believed her father would easily be forgiven. And from what I was told, her father was a horrid man who could never be redeemed. So they performed a simple burial for the dead. The Goddess would judge them Herself by the merit of their actions.
I still wasn’t fully bought on the idea of the Goddess. I respected their beliefs, of course. But most of it came from the Church. And they certainly weren’t a reliable source. Whether or not She existed though— She probably did.
I was never really religious in my previous life. I also didn’t fully consider myself an atheist. I simply didn’t think about it too much. However after having met a god— a fake god?— a jerk god, I decided I wanted to think about it less.
So when everyone said their final prayers, I simply bowed my head and remained silent. After the funerals ended, Ginah finally approached me.
“Melas,” she greeted me, her face expressionless.
“Ginah, I…” I hesitated, looking the pirate Captain over. In a sense, I was responsible for the death of all her men who died today; I knew she didn’t blame me, but I still felt uncertain whether I should address it with an apology or defend myself. In the end, I settled with expressing my gratitude.. “Thank you.”
She shook her head. “They wanted to help you. Braz more than the others.”
I nodded. “They were good men.”
“Indeed they were.”
The two of us stood there, under the night sky, in silence for a minute. Finally, as Ginah raised her head, she broke it and spoke out. “When do you have to be at Jahar’taw by?”
I turned to face her. She was staring up at the twinkling stars on the dome overhead. Her gaze was wishful, longing, and hopeful. She still seemed tired, as she was before. But now something was renewed inside of her. Like she was looking forward to what was to come, rather than dreading it.
“I’m in no particular rush,” I said. “If you still have things to settle here in Luke, I’d be willing to wait.”
“No.” Ginah looked back down and looked over at me. She sighed, rubbing at her left shoulder. “I’ve spoken with Kai. He reassured me that he’d be able to handle things back here. That he’s prepared for it— he even told me his plan on what to do for the next few days.
“Luke is my city— it is pretty much all I have ever known— but I have a lot of bad memories here. My father did terrible things to very many people. I’ve tried to make it up to as many of them as I could, but most of them shunned me. It makes me feel like I’ve failed. And the lives lost today only adds more guilt to my conscience.”
I cocked an eyebrow and she continued.
“So what I’m saying is… I’d rather we leave as soon as possible.” She shifted uncomfortably on her feet as I slowly processed what she had told me. Slowly, I nodded.
“Of course.” I placed a hand on her elbow and offered her a small smile. “I’ll just get my things ready. It’s not like I own a lot of things anyway.”
Ginah paused. She stared at me for a moment. “You know, you don’t act like a girl your age.”
“I am aware.” I drew my lips to a thin line. “And please don’t say that ever again. It sounds… creepy”
“Right “ She adjusted her coat and turned to go. “I’ll have to speak with the rest of my crew now. But don’t forget to say goodbye to Kai. He’d hate it if you left without so much of a farewell.”
I smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
It was another lesson I had learned— to say goodbye. I would make sure it stuck with me no matter what.
It was not the most heartfelt farewell; we knew we would eventually see each other again. And yet, I was used to fleeting meetings. Short encounters that had never amounted to anything. So just knowing that I would meet Kai again in the future made me slightly emotional.
“Try not to get into too much trouble,” he said. “I know you can take care of yourself, but don’t be too reckless.”
I snorted. “What? Are you going to start treating me like a child now?”
“Maybe.” He chuckled and placed a hand on my head. I scowled, but he ignored it. “You’re capable, Melas. I’ve seen it myself. But you’re still young. Ginah may not seem like the most reliable adult, but you can trust her. I know I have for the last decade.”
“I will,” I said. I turned around to board the ship, but stopped right at the gangplank to add, “And thank you. For trusting me.”
“I haven’t seen anything not to trust so far.” He smiled.
I nodded back at him, and with one last wave I made my way up the gangplank onto the ship. Ginah had already spoken to the rest of her crew; she had already said her goodbyes. So all that was left now was for us to actually go.
And with a final cheer, our boat finally departed into the ocean. I stood next to Ginah as she glanced back one last time to most of her crew that stayed behind. They waved at her— kids and adults, men and women, fighters and civilians, all alike— they bade their Captain a temporary farewell.
I saw a single tear drop fall from her eyes, but did not comment on it; instead, I turned to Jack and Lisa who were also on the ship coming along with us. I approached them, nodding a greeting and Jack and turning to Lisa.
“Hey, Melas,” she said cheerfully.
“Not nervous at all?” I asked, cocking my head.
“Can’t say I’m not a little antsy. This is my first time leaving Luke, after all. And this is going to be a Dwarven Kingdom. It’s a completely different place.”
To my surprise, Jack actually spoke out, adding his thoughts. “Not as good as it’s made out to be.”
“You’ve been there before, haven’t you?” I addressed the man, who simply shrugged.
“For a while,” he said. “But I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Of course.” I exchanged a look with Lisa, but she was just as clueless as I was. I patted him on the arm. “As long as you don’t cause us too much trouble.”
He grunted. “Don’t worry, I won’t cause you as much trouble as you’ve caused for us.”
“Hey—” I frowned, staring at his less dour expression. “Wait, was that a joke?”
Jack simply turned away, not opting to respond. I narrowed my eyes. So there’s more to him than just a cynical grouch, huh? There was still so much I had to learn about these people; I was kind of looking forward to it, actually.
Socializing like a normal person was something I had been deprived of for so long. I was an antisocial kid back in Villamcreek, and my time with others after leaving the small village had always been under tense situations. The few weeks we would have at sea offered me an opportunity to bond with others normally. Like the normal person I had been before I died.
Lisa smiled her usual smile. “Jack is actually a really nice guy once you get to know him,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “If he lets others get to know him.”
“Kind of like you, huh?” She raised a brow at me.
I ignored that playful gibe and turned to face her. “So what will you be doing once you get to Taw?”
“I don’t know.” She leaned on the bulwark of the ship, facing out into the ocean. “We’ll figure it out when we get there. Plus you said you have some contacts don’t you? That you can get an audience with some rich and influential people?”
“Gennady can do that,” I corrected her. “The only thing I can do for myself is get an audience with the King.”
At this point, I was already most of the way to Jahar’taw; there was no longer any reason for me to doubt Felix’s words that King Adilet would see me at his request. And even if that didn’t work out, Gennady made a similar claim. So there was no point in traveling to Taw under the assumption that I wouldn’t at least be seen by the King. Whether or not I would actually be granted sanctuary was a different question entirely.
“Hm, I should probably ask him about that then,” she said.
“You should.” I barely got the words out before Lisa called out to the Dwarf who was chatting across the deck from us.
He strode over, a bottle of alcohol in hand, already halfway through to its finish. “What do ya need?”
“Well, I was wondering if you could situate Jack and I with—”
I glanced past Gennady, at the young man following him. Sevin was one of the few people in Ginah’s Crew who voluntarily wanted to come with us. He was fascinated with technology and tinkering with it, so it made sense that going to the biggest hub of innovation in the world piqued his interest.
“Hi, uh, Melas.” He had a hint of hesitation in his voice— a pretty blatant hint. He scratched his cheek as he greeted me, still uncertain how to approach me.
He was obviously feeling awkward; that I knew. So I had to break the tension, that was all. I lightly punched him in the arm. “Hey, thanks for giving me your Shock Pistol. It works great— it really helped me out.”
He blinked a few times before slowly nodding. “Right, I did give you that, didn’t I?”
It was a while back, but I didn’t get the chance to use it proper until we sprung our trap on Lilith. I made sure to use the stun bolts when I was fighting Lisa, Ginah, and the others so as to not hurt them while keeping up the illusion that we were actually fighting for real.
“Yes,” I said, gesturing at the gun holstered on my belt. “I don’t know how you even did it. It worked so seamlessly.”
Sevin grinned and began to loosen up. “Oh, well, as I told you I took an Inferior mana crystal and…”
By the time Sevin was finished with his explanation, he was talking to me like normal once again. Lisa left after pestering Gennady for a while, which freed him up to join in on our conversation and brag about how we would be amazed when we got to Jahar’taw. Some time after that, it was night and most everyone headed to sleep.
I didn’t go to sleep. Instead I went to the bow of the ship, and just stood there, taking in the night sky. The darkness that hung overhead was tranquil— almost calming. I could see the storm clouds forming in the distance, already threatening this peaceful weather, but it had yet to come. So I simply enjoyed the current gentle night’s breeze.
A set of heavy footsteps approached me from behind, and I didn’t even turn around as I greeted the man. “Gennady, what are you doing up so late?” I asked, arms crossed and leaning on the wooden railing of the ship.
The Dwarf stopped right next to me. “I was going to, but I saw you leaving your room to go up here. I’m supposed to be your bodyguard, aren’t I? I can’t let you get swept up by the waves.”
“Come on, do you really think I’m not careful enough to avoid falling into the ocean?” I faced him with a mock glare.
“No,” he said. turning to meet my eyes. “But as you would say— better safe than sorry, right?”
He chortled and I joined him in his laughter. After we stopped, we stood there basking in the moonlight for a minute, until I decided to ask him the question that was weighing on my mind.
“I made a lot of promises to Ginah, Lisa, and the others,” I said, looking up into the storm clouds ahead. “But do you really think I can keep them?”
Gennady considered this. He placed a hand on his chin and glanced heavenward in thought. Finally, he shrugged. “Don’t know if you can keep them,” he answered truthfully. “But I’ll help you try and do just that. I may not seem like it, but I’m a pretty important Dwarf after all.”
I raised an eyebrow dubiously at that, and he folded his arms indignantly.
“I know, I know,” I said, grinning at him. “I was joking. I have a sense of humor too, you know?”
He snorted. “Could’ve fooled me.”
I sighed wistfully as I rested my head on my forearms, leaning slightly off the edge of the ship. “I just hope everything works out.”
“Don’t worry.” Gennady patted me on the back, and gave me a reassuring grin. “Just have faith, will ya?”
I nodded and said nothing more. We stayed there in silence once again, letting the sounds of the waves and the wind fill the moment.
“Sorry, by the way,” I added.
“For what?” he asked.
“For almost killing you when we first met.”
“Oh please, there’s no way ya would’ve killed me. Can ya imagine what the headlines would be back in Taw if they found out I was killed by a little girl? It would’ve been—”
I watched on and smiled as Gennady told me of all the ways him dying to me would’ve sullied and disgraced the Dwarven Kingdom so there was no way he would’ve allowed it— he simply let me catch him off guard or something or another excuse.
Whatever the case was, I enjoyed the moment for what it was with my friend. Because while there might not always be bright days ahead— even though it might not be smooth sailing from here on out— at least I was making progress. At least I was finally going to get to the Jahar’taw.
Maybe there I would finally be safe.
“You’ve got to see this!” the young fisherman called out to his companion as he hauled the net back to the boat.
“What is it?” the older man asked, looking over his shoulders.
“I don’t know,” the young fisherman said, scratching the back of his head. “I think it’s a woman or something.”
The older man sputtered. “A woman?” He turned to the young fisherman and pulled him back. “Boy, what’s wrong with you? That’s a Mermaid!”
The young fisherman’s protests were interrupted as the figure in the net jerked. A young woman stood up, tearing the seaweed and the fishes off her with her one remaining arm. Blood dripped off the stump on her left, as the broken mana crystals fell off her torn and tattered clothing.
The two men backed up as red lines formed throughout her body. Her eyes flashed with fury.
“I’ll kill her. Goddess damn me if that isn’t the last thing I do!”
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