Author's Note: Well, everybody said they wanted a Sand romance, so I had to take my best shot, poor though it might be.

There will probably be more, but it's tricky to write, because I apparently have only a finite store of sarcasm, and trying to write dialog for our favorite moon elf drains it very quickly.

Chapter One – In which our hero interrupts a virtuoso performance, forges a great many documents, drinks a bit too much, and gets laid for the first time in two hundred years.

They were at it again.

Sand was passing through the main hall of the Keep, carrying a beaker of spring water for his latest experiment, and heard the echoes.

"I am telling you, paladin, she's more than capable of taking care of herself, so I am not going to—"

"I am not suggesting otherwise—" the voice of Casavir cut in, sounding rather less measured and more harried than usual, "I am merely stating—"

Sand sighed.

Lovely. The Traveling Ranger & Paladin Show puts on another performance.

To be fair, they probably didn't realize that the peculiar acoustics of Crossroad Keep were broadcasting their argument to half the castle. If they had, they would undoubtedly have chosen a more private location for their spat.

The center of the courtyard at high noon, for example. Sand massaged his temples as the echoes flew.

"And even if she is spending too much time in the basement with Jerro and that blue freak, if she can't handle it, then it's her problem!"

"Surely even you can see that no good can come of consorting with demons!"

Sand shook his head. The guards in the main hall were looking distinctly uncomfortable, and Sergeant Kana's angular face had gone from cool to downright icy.

"Never a Shadow Reaver around when you want one…" he muttered.

Just keep your head down and go back to the library and if you close the doors and stuff cotton in your ears, you can probably drown out the second act.

Not that there was much point in drowning it out. The Ranger & Paladin Show put on at least three performances a week. Sand could pretty much recite the entire thing from memory, including such perennial hits as "I'm Not Whining, I'm A Paladin," "Repression, Self-Deception, and Doubt," and Sand's personal favorite, "I Don't Care What Your Detect Evil Says, I'm Just Misunderstood."

If either of those idiots spent one-tenth the energy speaking to the dear girl that they expend sniping at one other…ah, well.

He made it halfway across the flagstoned floor, and Kana's fist closed over his collar.

Sand winced.

Kana scared him. She was always calm, but she had that zealot's fire in the back of her eyes, a hard smell like brimstone and coriander—and owing to his own rather peculiar position in the hierarchy of Neverwinter, Sand was never entirely sure if she could give him orders or not.

Apparently she had no such concerns, because she said "Stop. Them. Now." and punctuated each word with a little shake.

"What, me?"

"Do. It." Another shake. Sand grimaced. "They are making a laughingstock of the Captain, and I will not have it."

"Why me?"

Kana narrowed her eyes.

"Oh, very well." Sand straightened his robes. It's not as if I don't get all the dirty jobs anyway. Sand, go research two hundred years of legal precedent for tomorrow morning. Sand, the basement of the keep is flooding, go make sure Mephasm's circle is waterproof. Gee, Sand, don't you think antagonizing this giant red dragon is a wonderful idea…?

He followed the echoes down the hall, around several corners, and finally located the source.

Sand could smell them before he even came around the corner. Bishop's scent always reminded him of a wounded boar he'd encountered once in his youth, a savage creature with spears broken off in its hide, too hurt to live and too vicious to die. He'd spent half the night up a tree waiting for it to go away, and swore never to leave a city again if he could help it. Wood elves could keep the forest, Sand was more comfortable with walls.

The paladin was a cleaner, less complicated scent by contrast, a metallic holiness, faintly tinged with the acrid odor of despair.

The pair of them together in the unventilated corridor made his sinuses itch.

He came around the corner, trying not to sneeze.

Bishop was slouching against a wall, looking surly, which was normal, and Casavir was standing rigidly at attention, holding forth on the Knight-Captain's moral integrity, which was also normal. He broke off at the elf's approach.

"Sand?" A cautious quarter-bow. "Is there something you need?"

An intermission to buy popcorn and use the privy would be nice…

"You do realize," said the elf acidly, "that if you gentlemen would move down the hall about ten feet, the other half of the Keep will be able to hear you, too. As it is, they'll have to rely on the gossip, and just think how disappointed they'll be."

Casavir had the decency to flush. Bishop didn't.

"Everything I've said is the truth," said the ranger, pushing away from the wall. "I don't care who hears it."

"Mmm, quite. Doubtless the good captain will share your opinion."

"You're cruising for a knife between the ribs, wizard."

"Yes, yes, you're a dangerous man, we're all in terror." Sand made a shooing gesture with one hand. "Go and be dangerous somewhere else, won't you?"

Bishop snorted, turned on his heel, and stalked away.

Casavir stared at the floor. Sand had an urge to kick him, but the man was wearing plate, and the elf's boots weren't up to it.

He folded his arms instead. It was difficult to scold someone who was eight inches taller than you and twice as broad in the shoulders, but Sand managed. "I don't expect civilized behavior from our dear ranger, but a paladin really ought to know better. If you're going to air your emotional laundry, at least do it quietly."

The other man sighed. "You are correct. I should not allow him to goad me." He bowed his head. "Please make my apologies to the captain."

"Me? Why is it always…oh, never mind." Sand rolled his eyes. "I'm going. If you find that you've brooded yourself into another ulcer, stop by the library. I've got a potion for that."

Casavir bowed and left with almost indecent haste for a paladin.

Sand sighed.



He knocked on the door of the Captain's quarters a few minutes later. Sand would ordinarily have resented carrying messages for the paladin, but Kana was going to make him report it to the Captain anyway, so he might as well kill two birds with one spell and save a trip.

There was no answer. He knocked harder.

"If it's a Shadow Reaver, tell it to come back tomorrow," came through the door.

Sand pushed the door open. "It's an army of red dragons, ridden by githyanki. Carrying undead on their backs."

Serafin Crowther, the hero of Neverwinter, Shard-Bearer, terror of Luskan, ally of Ironfist, etc etc ad nauseum, looked up at him from behind ramparts of paperwork.

"What are the undead carrying?"

"Mmm…explosives, I think."

"Tell them to come back next week."

Sand closed the door behind him and dropped into a free chair. Serafin vanished behind stacks of paper.

Her usual scent of leather and destiny—destiny, for some odd reason, was a not-unpleasant combination of iron and gingerbread, like someone baking cookies in a foundry—had been largely defeated by the smell of paper, ink and peppery frustration. Sand pinched the bridge of his nose to keep from sneezing.

"Sorry. It's the dust…"

It wasn't the dust, but Sand had mostly given up trying to explain the woes of having a truly superior sense of smell. His eye was caught instead by a bottle of wine on the desk. He read the label and winced.

"My dear girl, you cannot waste a good merlot on paperwork. It is very nearly criminal."

"Sorry." Paper rustled. "They refuse to send up the bad stuff. And I'm not quite sure what wine goes with paperwork, come to that."

"An inferior white, actually." He set the bottle down. "The dryness of the wine matches the dryness of the parchment, allowing one to wallow thoroughly in the misery of the experience."

There was a chuckle from behind the ramparts. "I'll keep that in mind."

Sand picked up a stack of papers and read a few columns. "Requisition forms, approvals, pay vouchers—blessed Mystra, don't you have a quartermaster yet?"

One grey eye appeared briefly between two papery battlements. "Kana's supposed to be looking for one, but she can't find one that meets her standards."

"Of course not." Sand tossed the papers back on the desk, causing a minor avalanche. "All quartermasters are thieves. Tell her to hire one anyway."

"You tell her." The eye got a hunted look. "Whenever I get in the same room, she throws reports at me."

"Quite." He got tired of trying to speak from behind the wall of paper and stood up.

She looked up at him wearily, a lean, spare woman with lines around her eyes that hadn't been there six months ago. She was not beautiful. Even Sand, who would have followed her to the outermost hells—complaining every step of the way, mind you—would have admitted that.

It was probably just as well. The last six months would have crushed beauty flat anyway. The captain had elegant bones and a sense of humor and a smell that didn't make him sneeze. Sand approved of these things.

At the moment, however, she looked rather more haggard than usual, and there was a mute appeal in her eyes.

He sighed and picked up another stack of papers. "You're not actually reading these, I trust?"

Serafin looked worried. "I thought I was supposed to."

"No, foolish girl. Your Keep generates paperwork. You, as Captain, delegate as much as possible and sign the rest. You do not actually read it."

She shoved a stack at him, a sudden mad light in her eyes. "Here, I'm delegating."

He folded his arms. "I think not."

Serafin put her face in her hands and moaned briefly. "I am starting to have nightmares about drowning in paper. Is that a bad sign?"

Sand sighed and pulled a quill from his robes. "Oh, very well. I'll help you sign, at least." I am far too generous for my own good…

The captain propped her chin in her hand and watched him forge her name neatly on the bottom of a form. "It worries me how easily you do that."

"How do you think the alchemy lab got so well stocked, hmmm?" He continued signing, authorizing a shipment of mule fodder, the miner's back pay, and what appeared to be a permit to allow Deekin to sell live scorpions on a stick. No, I definitely shouldn't read these things…

"Does Nevalle know you can do that?" Serafin picked up her own stack and began signing.

He smiled down at the page. "Rather like the current whereabouts of Ammon Jerro, I seem to keep forgetting to mention it."


"That's enough," she said finally, an hour or so later. Between the two of them, they had finished off half of the paperwork and two-thirds of the bottle of wine. "I can see my desk again—if I get too efficient, Kana will start thinking I'm good at this." Serafin slumped back in her chair and ran a hand through her hair. "Thanks, Sand. You're a life saver. As usual."

He shrugged, faintly embarrassed. She always thanked him. Sand was not used to people thanking him for anything and actually meaning it, which was probably the reason he kept doing absurdly dangerous things in the Captain's service.

Of such small things are loyalties made…

Which, unfortunately, reminded him of the paladin, and why he was here. He sighed.

"I fear, however, I did not come merely to rescue you from paperwork."

"Of course not." She leaned back and stretched her boots out toward the fire. "You didn't kill Qara, did you? If so, I hope you disintegrated the body, otherwise I'm going to have to at least pretend to yell about it."

"Nothing so pleasant, I fear. The Traveling Ranger & Paladin Show was performing for most of the Keep again. One of them sends his apologies, but I'll let you guess which one."

"Oh, gods…" She put her head in her hands. "What was it this time? Am I wearing my armor too short again?"

"The paladin doesn't approve of Jerro's demons, and the ranger doesn't approve of the paladin not approving. Also, of course, they're both idiots."

She groaned.

"Kana is ready to have them both horsewhipped, but she doesn't think she has the authority." He steepled his fingers and peered at her over the top. "Mind you, I'm not sure how long that will stop her."

"What am I going to do?" The scent of frustration thickened noticeably, a mad chef adding cayenne to the gingerbread.

"Well, as I keep telling you, if you'd just pick one, I could fireball the other and frame Qara for it…"

One of these days she's going to take you up on that offer, and then what will you do?

Do it, obviously. It's not like it's the first body our merry band has left in our wake, and anything I do to Qara is preemptive self-defense anyway.

Serafin shook her head wearily. "Don't tempt me."

"Mmm. Madness, I'm sure, but have you tried talking to them?"

"Repeatedly." She heaved a sigh that seemed to come from her toes. "Bishop chooses not to believe me, and Casavir runs if he sees me coming."

"Ah, yes. Doubtless he fears that your presence will cause him to be overwhelmed with unpaladinly lust, forcing him to, oh, give you a firm handshake in public or something equally risqué."

That wrung a tired snicker out of her, but she sobered quickly. "I don't know. They don't listen. Maybe the horsewhipping would get through…"

"With Bishop perhaps. I believe Casavir belongs to a flagellant order already."

Serafin snorted. She reached out blindly, found her wineglass, and drained it. "Bloody hell, Sand. A war with ancient evil, interdimensional metal bits embedded in my sternum, Luskan breathing down my neck, and the one problem I can't handle…" She made a vague gesture with her free hand, presumably in the direction of the ranger and paladin.

"Well, at least it's nice to be wanted," said Sand dryly, studying the ceiling.

He waited for something—another snort, possibly—and when it didn't come, dropped his eyes to the Captain in alarm.

"They don't want me," she said drearily. Her eyes were suspiciously bright, and she blinked a few too many times as she spoke. "They're just after the damn hero of Neverwinter. Casavir wants a saint he can worship from afar, and Bishop…I don't know, probably just wants to get laid before he sells me to the highest bidder."

This squared exactly with Sand's opinion, but hearing her say it—particularly in that raw, tired voice—was painful. He set his wineglass down. "My dear girl…"

She looked up at him, started to say something, and a tear got loose and fell. "Bloody hell," she rasped, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Sorry."

Sand generally felt about emotional displays the way he felt about muggings—presumably they went on somewhere, but he preferred to avoid them whenever possible and considered them a dreadful imposition.


She apparently felt the same way, because she leaned back in her chair, grimacing, and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes to try and stem the tide.

He'd once seen her go toe-to-toe with a Shadow Reaver—a creature that she knew, she knew was invincible, and she'd stood in front of it, sword in hand, and let it hammer on her, all to buy time for the warlock to read off its true name. Blood had formed a mask over half her face, but her set grin of concentration had never once wavered.

It wasn't right that she be reduced to this, particularly not by those two idiots.

It was…

Well, it was more than an elf could take, that was all.

What am I doing? I'm not—good lord, man, run for the door, not—

Without quite knowing how it had happened, Sand found that he was kneeling next to her chair and somehow he had an arm around her shoulders—how had that happened?—and she was sniffling into his collar.

This won't end well. What am I doing?

Sand prided himself on his wit, but there was really only one thing you could say under the circumstances. He said it anyway.

"Er…there, there…?"

She didn't cry, exactly. If she'd started sobbing, he would probably have broken and fled, despite his best intentions. There were limits. But she only took a few ragged breaths, leaning against him, and fell silent.

He patted her back helplessly, because, like saying "There, there," it was just something you did.

Eventually she straightened up again. Her eyes were red-rimmed, but she had a faint, sardonic smile.

"Thanks, Sand. You can't have enjoyed that."

"Not particularly, no."

She smelled like iron and gingerbread and wine. Sand caught her face between his palms, holding her as gingerly as a beaker of acid. What am I doing? Have I lost my mind?

She tried to take a deep breath, but it caught halfway through, and she sat very still for a moment. Sand winced.

"Dear girl, please. I cannot abide weeping. I will go and disintegrate them both, right now, if only you'll stop."

She chuckled hoarsely. "Then I really would have to yell at you, or what would Kana think?"

"Kana will probably hold them down for me." He brushed his thumbs over her cheekbones, wiping away the remnants of tears.


It occurred to Sand, looking at her from about six inches away, that he could probably kiss her right now and get away with it.

Are you out of your mind? The little voice of sanity in the back of his head was outraged. You can't do that! She's the hero of bloody Neverwinter, and you're a disgraced hedge-wizard from the Hosttower. Nevalle'd have your ears on his belt, and she's a human and—

She kissed him.

--you're hundreds of years older than she is, and if you do, she'll be polite about it, but she won't be interested and then it'll be awkward and she'll never…be…comfortable…around…

Her lips were very warm, and tasted like—well, like a fairly good merlot, actually, the sort you shouldn't drink with paperwork.




Well, never mind, then.

When the kiss came to its natural conclusion a moment later, Sand sat back on his heels and said "Well. That was unexpected."

Serafin turned a shade of scarlet he'd last seen on a dragon's scales. He still had one hand on her cheek, and could actually feel the heat pulsing under her skin. Mildly fascinated, he watched the blush spread to the rounded tips of her ears.

My word, that looks almost painful…

"Oh god, Sand, I'm so sorry." She caught at his wrist, biting her lower lip. "I'm—I didn't mean to—I mean, that is, I did mean to, but I'm sure you're—probably not—er—interested—"

"Dear girl…"

Now can I kiss her? he asked his sanity.

It's still a bad idea, but do whatever you want, I'm sure, it said testily.

So he did.

Her response was quite passionate. Possibly a little too passionate—he'd been crouching on his heels next to her chair, and when she leaned into him, he went right over backwards and hit the ground.

"Oh, good lord." She leaned over the arm of the chair. "Are you okay?"

"The paladin," said Sand from the floor, "has no idea what he's missing."

She snickered. "Yeah, but he wouldn't have fallen over."

He scoffed, sitting up. "I assure you, dear girl, there are things for which one wants brawn, and things for which one wants brains, and—mmph!"

And Sand, who'd been kicked down so far that he could barely remember what up had been like, found himself with a woman in his arms and discovered that he had nothing sarcastic to say about that at all.

A few minutes later, when he had to do something—or risk doing something he would undoubtedly regret later—he disentangled himself, reached a hand up to the desk, and located the bottle of wine and one of the glasses.

"A poor accompaniment to paperwork," he said, pouring, "but not bad for this sort of thing."

Serafin chuckled, sitting up. Her hair was mussed, and she ran a hand through it, which didn't help at all. "So you really didn't know, huh?"

"I assure you, I had not the least idea in the world." He lifted the wineglass in a wordless toast.

"Oh, thank goodness. I was afraid I was terribly obvious and you were just pretending not to notice to be kind."

"Kindness is not something I'm often accused of." He handed her the glass.

"Feh." She took a swallow of wine herself, then ran a fingertip around the rim. "It was the trial, you know. I was just so…at sea…over the whole thing. I mean, fighting, I at least understand, but a whole city out to get me…" She started to gesture with the wineglass, and Sand plucked it from her fingers before it spilled. "How do you fight something like that? I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide."

"Not an unreasonable response, given the circumstances," he allowed. Basically what I did, after all, even if the hole was Neverwinter.

"Yeah. But then they sent you along—and you actually seemed to know what you were doing—"

Sand shook his head in mild dismay. She grinned. "Well, you faked it well, anyway. And whenever I was about to get overwhelmed, I'd turn to you, and you'd know what to do next. You were so methodical, and so—I don't know, sane—that I started thinking maybe there was a way to take on a whole city."

"Sanity is in short enough supply in our merry band, I'll certainly give you that," he muttered, finishing off the wine.

"Well, and then you accused Torio of dressing like a prostitute, which didn't hurt." She grinned at him.

"My finest hour." He smirked a bit at the memory. "Still, if I'd known…"

If I'd known, though, what would I have done differently?

He'd spent the first hour after the trial in a fine frenzy, doing the only thing he could think of, mixing up potions until he'd nearly set his eyebrows on fire, for a woman he'd thought of as a friend. If she'd been anything more…

What would he have done? Slaved over potions until he'd burned the shop down around his ears?

Offered to fight in her stead?

Hardly. What am I, a paladin?

Whipped up some invisibility potions and tried to convince her to flee the city with him?

More plausible.

Snuck into the Temple of Tyr in the small hours of the night and made love to her in front of the altar?

Hmm, now we're talking…

Possibly some of what he was thinking crossed his face, because she blushed again—not quite so painfully scarlet as before, but still rather brilliantly. Sand stroked her cheek, bemused.

You cannot seriously be thinking of taking the hero of Neverwinter to bed. Nevalle wouldn't stop at your ears, and Duncan would nail your head on the wall of that decrepit bar as a trophy.

She leaned into his hand. "Ah. I…uh…should probably warn you…West Harbor, you know…kinda small…I don't, ah, have that much experience with this sort of thing…"

So what if I am thinking of it? We're all going to die in the next month or so anyway, and probably not in bed. I don't see the King of Shadows sparing my life because I've been sleeping virtuously alone.

"Dear girl," he said, with rather more warmth than he was used to hearing in his own voice, "I am over four hundred years old. I assure you, I have experience enough for both of us." He folded his arms around her.

A moment later, when an unfortunate thought had struck him, he fought free long enough to say "Precisely how much experience are we talking about?"

"Eh." She shrugged. "Bevil and a haystack."

"Bevil?" Sand dropped his forehead to her shoulder and summoned up a brief image of the sergeant—expression of earnest bafflement, neck like a tree trunk, all the finesse of a wild boar in a dress shop. "Blessed Mystra. No wonder you have no fear of Shadow Reavers—how much worse could you possibly be mauled?"

"Hey, now…" She leaned her head back, laughing. "He meant well."

Sand lifted his head. "And?"

She opened her mouth, shut it again, and shrugged. "And…he meant well."

Come now, Sand, you cannot possibly let the dear girl go to her death with the great romantic experience of her life being Bevil. And the haystack, of course.

Oh, rationalize a little harder, Sand, you've nearly convinced yourself…

Serafin was watching him, looking wry and amused and ever so slightly worried. The iron-and-gingerbread smell had gotten spicier, heavy on the nutmeg and cinnamon. Sand had a fair idea what that meant.

This is a dreadfully bad idea, and you know it. You've already had to flee one city. What are you going to do this time—change your name and move to Waterdeep?

He stood up and brushed himself off. She leaned back on her hands and cocked her head up at him.

If he left now, she'd probably never mention it again. She'd bear up, the way she bore up under everything else. What she lacked in grace, she made up for in raw stubbornness. She wouldn't hold it against him, and she had to know that unlike the Ranger & Paladin Show, Sand would never say a word.

He went to the door.

Serafin sighed, so quietly that a human would not have heard it. She probably didn't realize he could hear it.

Sand put his hand out to the door.

And locked it.

She laughed out loud. Sand preferred her snicker, but he was willing to admit that the laugh wasn't bad either.

He came back to the fire, knelt, and slid one arm under her shoulders and one under her knees. A quickly muttered cantrip to negate half her mass—he was a wizard, after all, not some overmuscled paladin—and he scooped her up in his arms.

"Hey!" She caught at his neck. "I felt that!"

"Yes, well…"

"I could have walked, you know."

"There is such a thing as style, dear girl," he said, carrying her to the bed.

"Oh, well, anything for style, I suppose…"

I'm insane. I always suspected I was—standing up to that red dragon should have been the tip off—but here's the proof. I have finally lost my mind. Too many decades of inhaling mercury fumes. Today this seems like a good idea. Tomorrow I'll be hunting Wendersnaven with the gnome.

Truth be told, he hadn't expected madness to seem so pleasant.

He set her down, caught both her hands, and shook his head ruefully.

"I must be insane to even be thinking this," he told her.

"Well, we are all going to die…" she said, with a crooked grin. Which, Sand thought, was probably proof that it was meant to be.

"In that case, dear girl—on behalf of men and elves everywhere—please allow me to make up to you for poor Bevil."




Sometime in the deep watches of the night, Sand woke.

Beside him, breathing evenly, the hero of Neverwinter slept the sleep of the just and the righteous and the carnally exhausted.

He'd catnapped for a few hours himself, but the longer he lived, the less sleep he seemed to need, and the less deeply he slept when he did. He'd been sleeping alone for a long time, and every time she twitched in her sleep, he came half-awake, startled by the motion.

Still, it was pleasant to lie there. She radiated heat like a furnace, the way the younger races always did, and in a keep that was icy even in high summer, Sand had occasionally thought he'd never get warm again. He had been content for several hours to do nothing but curl his body around hers and soak that heat into his bones.

However, there were…other concerns. Things that needed to be thought through, before he slept again.

What a peculiar and dangerous opportunity this is.

Sand sat up in the bed, tucking the sheet modestly around his waist, and propped his chin on one hand.

Serafin mumbled something in her sleep that sounded like "hnggly-blrrrmmmgh?" and rolled over on her side.

If someone had been scrying the scene—and Sand assumed that the Hosttower was probably trying at any given moment—they might have been struck by the way he looked at her. It was not the way a man looked at a woman he loved. It wasn't even lust. It was something rather colder and more calculating, and it turned the elf's already pale blue eyes to the color of a winter frost.

Then again, if it was the Hosttower doing the scrying, they might have known Sand, and then perhaps it wouldn't have surprised them at all.

He reached out a hand and idly stroked the hair away from her neck. She was sleeping with her head back, the column of her throat exposed.

Sand knew for a fact that the bounty on that neck would make him wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and Sand's avarice did not think small.

Not that he would do anything like that.

Well…probably not.

Although…if I were to do so…

Killing her outright was madness, of course, no matter how close his hands were to her neck. In a contest of raw physical strength, she'd break him in half.

There was a knife in his robes at this very moment, which were draped over the back of her chair. The edge was very sharp, for that last desperate moment when all spells failed, and Sand had become rather good with it over the years.

Severed heads were rather more portable than whole corpses, anyway.

She made a small, sleepy sound. Sand discovered that he was tracing the path of her carotid artery under the skin with his fingertips, and took his hand away.

I couldn't do it inside the Keep, of course. The mess would be unbelievable. I'd need to get her outside and alone, which shouldn't be difficult now. Humans will believe any foolish thing about elves…a few carefully chosen words about moonlight, someplace secluded outside the walls, and I'd be headed for Luskan on a swift horse with bloody saddlebags…


It would be murder, after all. The lines etched on his face deepened, and he folded his hands in his lap. Permissible under Luskan law, perhaps, but…no. Sand had done enough incidental killing in the last few months to secure his place in any number of hells, but this was something else again. The Hosttower may have broken me, but I have not sunk quite so low on their behalf. Yet.

They'd pay a great deal more for her alive, of course. The living could stand trial publicly.

She might even survive the experience.

Anything's possible.

Sand wasn't sure that he could dominate her mind under normal circumstances—Serafin was as stubborn as a balked mule, which was likely was the reason she was still alive. But if he woke her, and spoke the spell while she was still groggy and half asleep—or if he provided certain…mm…distractions—yes, he might well be able to get her in thrall, and it was always easier to keep someone under then it was to put them down in the first place. Then down to the stables for two swift horses, and the Hosttower would be so ecstatic to have the hero of Neverwinter delivered alive and intact to their doorstep, they'd likely give him his own suite and a monochromatic wardrobe to go with it.

Of course, the primary colors are already taken. With my luck I'd wind up as Sand the Mauve or Sand the Ecru or something regrettable like that…

It probably wasn't worth dooming the free world, violating his principles, and putting a price on his head the size of a dragon's hoard just to be Sand the Ecru.

Oh, be realistic, Sand. You wouldn't last a fortnight in the Hosttower anyway. Such power bases are not stable, as Garius learned to his misfortune. And none of the reasons you left have changed, nor are they within your power to change.

Black Garius would doubtless also pay handsomely, but that didn't bear thinking about.

I would make a very poor Shadow Reaver.

And all this assumes that her dear friends do not immediately give chase—as you would do yourself, if the ranger tried any such foolishness.

The ranger was the one who concerned him—the ranger and Ammon Jerro. Sand would have put himself against any of the others in wit or craft, but he had no illusions about the warlock. The man had stared into the abyss until the abyss came to heel like a whipped dog. He'd destroy Sand as easily as breathing. And it would be Bishop—Bishop, who could very nearly track the flight of a butterfly over naked rock—who would lead Ammon Jerro to him.

He'd do it, too. Whether out of jealousy or because he was planning to sell her to the highest bidder himself, probably even he doesn't know. But he'd still do it.

It did not take a mind as keen as Sand's to see how that would play out.

I'd be two or three days down the road, half-exhausted from holding the dear girl's mind under, and hezrou demons would come pouring out of the ground. I'd be lucky to get off a scream, never mind a spell. Oh, no, definitely not a good idea…

Well, then.

She shifted a bit in her sleep, half rolling over. Sand reached out and pulled the sheet up over her shoulder.

Better to stay. Certainly more ethical, for what that was worth. He had watched her do a number of impossible things already. Defeating an ancient evil from a dead empire was just the sort of thing she might pull off, and anyone who stood with her—if they lived—would hardly need the Hosttower afterwards.

He'd probably even manage to get out from under Nevalle's thumb, if he was lucky.

So long as you are deciding this based on logic and reason, and not on some foolish sentiment or lust.

He slipped back under the blankets and wrapped an arm around her, so that his hand lay in the hollow between her breasts. The jagged scar across her chest was a raised slickness under his fingers.

She sighed and one hand crept up to cover his.

Naturally. Sentiment has nothing to do with it at all.

Just so long as we're clear, then.

Content that he was doing the only logical and reasonable thing, and that his judgment was still perfectly sound and in no way influenced by the heat of her body or the smell of gingerbread, Sand closed his eyes and drifted off for another fitful hour of sleep.