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Sins Of The Children
by Rune Lai


"You're kidding," said Faith, when Dask handed him the description of their next assignment. "We're going to a nursery?" He arched a thick black eyebrow at his companion, though he knew his partner was not given to jokes.

"It's not a nursery," said Dask. "The kids are a little older than that. Try four to eight. It's a school basically, and they're missing some students."

Fun. Could have been kidnappings for extortion purposes, except that the school in question was located in Mile, arguably one of the poorest communities on the planet. There was nothing out there but rocks and sandworms. And the reward for the task was pathetically small by guild standards. Clearly the client was counting on the mercy often bestowed upon children, otherwise no one would take this job.

"You know this job will barely cover the cost of a telepipe over there," he said.

"We're well enough off," Dask replied. "We can do it for charity."

Faith sighed. "Yeah, I guess that would be okay. It's for a bunch of kids."

Miles Primary School was located at the base of a rocky hill. All the children were indoors when they arrived, and one of the two teachers greeted the hunters at the door. "Let's talk outside, out of earshot of the children," she said. "They've been rather upset lately, so we're trying not to worry them. I can't tell you how terrible it is when these kids stop speaking to us. They were pretty excitable the first time it happened, but now it's like they all curl up inside."

The teacher, whose name was Trina, lead them to the playground behind the school. It wasn't much, being of such a common origin, just the expanse of the gravel-strewn hillside marked off in an arbitrary fashion by lines of chalk. A few toys such as rubber balls and wooden swords were arranged in a neat pile nearby, but save for those the yard was empty.

"Thanks for coming," said Trina. "I really didn't know if anyone would take the job. I know a single school all the way out here is probably beneath the notice of the guild, and we can't afford to pay much."

Dask waved aside her concern. "Don't worry about it. If a job's worth doing someone will take it."

Faith wanted to roll his eyes, but Trina beamed. "Yes. Thank you. I'm glad you're willing to give us a hand. Goodness know we need the help."

"So what happened?"

Trina's shoulders sagged. "Almost every other week in the past two months we've lost a child. We have no idea what's going on and the parents are terrified. Still, this is the only place in town equipped to handle this many kids at the same time. We're not like city people. Our homes are small and town meetings are held outdoors in front of the mayor's house. Some of the parents would like to keep them at home, but they often have to work long hours in the fields without seeing their children. Here at least they know they'll be looked after."

She sighed. "We try to keep an eye on all of them, but somehow we keep losing them. We really need to know what's going on. Please."

"We'll do our best," said Faith finally. "Tell us what you know."

The children always disappeared after the midday meal, they weren't sure exactly when. Sometimes Trina, or Erin, the other teacher, would discover them missing when the kids returned from afternoon recess, other times only after the kids filed out the door to go home. The first time it happened everyone thought the kid had run away, since he was never popular to begin with and clearly unhappy with having to go to school everyday, but when another disappeared nine days later, and then a third, people realized something had to be wrong and that these events were connected somehow.

"Did anyone question the children?" Faith asked.

"We tried," she replied, with a shake of her head, "but we couldn't get a thing out of them. After a while they brush us off as if it never really happened."

"Great..."

*     *     *     *     *

The two hunters spend the middle of the day at the school. When afternoon recess started, the Faith and Dask seated themselves on the edge of the playground. The teachers remained inside, reviewing the children's schoolwork, and only poked a head out now and then to see that the children were still there.

"We're watching a bunch of kids," said Faith as the rambunctious group of children spilled out of the sole classroom. As Dask had told him earlier, they all appeared to be between four and eight.

"We're helping people," said Dask.

"I know that, but this isn't the type of job I wanted to take."

The kids, roughly twenty in all, splintered into smaller groups of four, five, even two as friends preferred to stay with friends. Faith and Dask divided surveillance of the groups between them. The children played separately for some time, then one kid prodded another from a different group, then another, and the students as a whole rejoined into one large cluster.

"Must be getting near the end of recess," said Dask.

One girl called out something and all the kids dashed off in different directions.

"No." Faith shook his head. "They're playing Feed the Dragon."

"Feed the Dragon?"

"I'm not surprised you haven't heard of it. I think it's a western side of the continent thing."

"I guess."

*     *     *     *     *

After recess ended, Faith left to talk to the townsfolk, walking up to them and striking up a conversation in their fields--"Hi, I'm Faith Tragon. I was sent by the Hunter's Guild to investigate the disappearance of the kids from the local school."--and shortly thereafter wishing he hadn't. He couldn't relate to the teary-eyed parents, but he tried to empathize. His own mother probably would^̉ve been worried if they had been in this position while he was young and he had been the one missing, but she never cried. Even when her husband died from the plague two years ago, even when she succumbed herself, she never cried. Funny, how of all possible things he could say about her, he would remember that.

"Did you find anything?" asked Dask when Faith returned to the school late in the afternoon. Most of the children had gone home, but a few of the younger ones napped until their parents came back from the day's work in the fields. Trina and Erin minded what kids remained.

"No luck," said Faith. "This is a small town. Everybody knows everybody else, or so they think. The worst argument among them is a crop dispute between two guys about who owns a particular lot of weye grass, but even the guy who's missing his daughter doesn't think the other guy would've done it."

"Did you talk to the other guy?"

"Of course! I didn't accuse him of anything and he was happy to show me around his farm. He's as worried about the kids as everyone else. I couldn't find a dirty spot on him."

"That doesn't do us any good," Dask sighed.

Faith was about to remind his partner who's idea this job had been when Trina jogged out of the schoolhouse. She jerked her head around, wild-eyed, until she saw them. "Hunters!" she shouted as she scurried over.

"What's wrong?" asked Dask.

"We can't find Paul! His parents came by. Paul normally goes home with Eddy, his neighbor's boy, but Eddy arrived home by himself today. I didn't know how I could've missed them. I saw Eddy leave today, but I honestly can't remember if I saw Paul go with him. I mean, I hope what's happening here didn't happen to him, that he's just lost or something, but I-"

"Slow down there. Take a deep breath," said Faith. He caught her gaze intensely with his own and held it until she calmed. She hiccuped, but said nothing else. "That's better. Dask and I will look into this. There's nothing else you can do right now. Just calm down and look after the kids who are still here."

"Okay," she said finally.

Faith nodded to Dask and they left the school for Eddy's home. His parents were not thrilled to find two hunters at their door, especially with the intent to question their son.

"You're not going to be able to get him to talk," said the father. "We've tried."

"That's what we've been told," said Dask, "but this just happened. Whatever occurred is fresh in your son's mind. We have to talk to him before he forgets. Is the disappearance bothering him at all?"

"Yes! Why wouldn't it?"

"'Why' is just what we'd like to know," said Faith. "I think in a few days he'll say it doesn't bother him at all."

"Why?"

"Because that's what the other kids say."

They got to see Eddy.

*     *     *     *     *

Faith stood by the door to Eddy's room, but seeing the boy's eyes flit nervously in his direction, he instead found a small chair that seemed sturdy enough to bear his weight. Dask squatted on the floor across from Eddy, who raised a blunt wooden sword; a toy.

"We're not here to hurt you," said Dask. "We're hunters. You've heard of us right?"

The sword drooped and Eddy nodded.

"Then you know what we do."

"You help people," said the boy.

"That's right."

"Are you going to help me?"

"Um... We're going to try. I think."

Dask glanced back at Faith who shook his head. The hunter turned back to Eddy. "We need to ask you a few questions. It's about Paul."

Eddy pulled back.

"Was Paul with you when you left the school?" asked Dask.

"No," he replied in a small voice.

"Why did you leave without him?"

Eddy said nothing, and held his wooden sword tightly against his chest.

"Please, Eddy. Paul's your friend, right? We're going to try to help him." More silence. "C'mon, kid. I know things have been rough for you lately, but it won't get better without your help."

Faith spotted Eddy's parents in the hall, out of the boy's line of sight, for now. He motioned for them to stay away. Eddy wouldn't talk if he had his parents to protect him. It was harsh, but if it helped stop the disappearing kids, Eddy would no doubt feel better about it later.

"What happened to Paul?" said Dask. "When did you last see him?"

"Paul's gone." Tears fell from Eddy's eyes. His lips quivered as he hugged his sword. "He failed."

"Failed?"

"He got eaten."

And then Eddy began to cry so uncontrollably they could get nothing else out of him.

*     *     *     *     *

Eddy did not show up at school the next day, but Dask checked and made sure that was only the case because Eddy's parents kept him safe at home. The schoolyard seemed emptier than before. Apparently other parents had the same idea.

"Do you think we should start looking for bodies?" asked Dask. "Might be a monster."

"I would think that someone would noticed a monster large enough to drag off and devour a small child. All the kids disappeared at school during the day. And if it dragged one of them off, how come no one heard any of the other kids running around screaming? How come none of the kids are injured?"

Dask shrugged. "I don't know, but if we can find a body we'll have a clue."

"I'd rather find these kids alive."

"Me too."

Dask left to search the perimeter of town. Faith doubted he'd find anything. They already searched the schoolyard the day they got here and hadn't found any signs of struggles.

Only eight kids came out during recess. Faith sat on the rocky hillside and watched them play. There was only one group this time and they seemed closer as a whole than the group the day he arrived. Perhaps they were better friends, or perhaps because of what had happened they felt safety in numbers. A couple of them looked his way and scooted towards the opposite end of the playground.

Faith never thought of himself as a particularly frightening man, but still, he was a stranger in a town where strangers were rare. Whether the kids liked it or not, he had to watch them, so watch them he did.

"The dragon calls for wood!" shouted a boy, punctuating his words with a clap of the hands.

The seven others scattered, scrambling about the schoolyard. They overturned rocks and toys. One girl ran far enough to a scrub brush at the end of the yard, but it was a different girl who returned to the herald first. Faith hadn't seen where she had gone, but she dropped a wood chip into the boy's hand.

"The first knight is chosen," said the boy.

The girl beamed widely and flopped to the ground, red curls bouncing. And so it went. Another game of Feed the Dragon. The boy called out for two more items, it didn't matter what, and two more knights were chosen.

"We need a king to feed the dragon! The king is missing. The knights must find him."

The remaining four children, the knights and the herald didn't move, scattered again. They ran behind rocks on the hillside, around the schoolhouse, anywhere, to hide. One small boy, wild-eyed, dashed behind Faith. The hunter looked at him and the boy shook his head. He didn't want to be found, really did not want to be found. Faith nodded and threw his traveling cloak over the boy.

He turned back to watch the herald. That boy was about eight, one of the oldest in the bunch. After the herald judged enough time had passed, he tapped each of the knights on the shoulder, they had been closing their eyes, and motioned for them to move.

"The search has begun!"

But here, the game was different from what Faith remembered. When he had played as a child the knights split up in what amounted to an overblown game of hide and seek, with a race between the knights to see who could tag the king first. This time the knights stayed together, and rather than running erratically around the schoolyard, their movements were methodical, premeditated. They didn't run like children at play. What they appeared to be doing--and the thought made him shudder--was stalking, as a predator hunts its prey.

The knights didn't go near him, but they slunk near the schoolhouse. With a sudden burst of speed two of them dashed around the building. There was a yelp, and then a boy dashed out the other side. He was fast, but the third knight was waiting for him. The girl tripped him and the other two barreled him to the ground.

"Let me go!" he shrieked. "Find someone else to feed the dragon!"

"The knights found you so you're the king," said the herald, holding up a wood chip, a slightly smashed cookie, and a marble in his hands. "Someone's got to feed the dragon and that's you. You just need to drop these off in his cave. You don't even have to see him. You're the king now. C'mon, don't you want to be king? Your subjects need you."

"Don't want to be king," sniffed the boy as the knights gradually let him up.

"Nothing to it," said the herald. "You go in, you go out."

"I hate you guys."

"The dragon must be fed."

The knights surrounding him, the king took the wood chip, cookie, and marble from the herald and marched up the hillside. Faith felt the child behind him stir and noticed the remaining children emerge from hiding. Together they watched the king disappear inside a hole at the top of the hill.

Faith rose to his feet and walked to the base of the hill, but before he could ascend the king emerged again, none the worse for wear, though the look in his eye probably would have caused the knights to shrink away had this been any other school.

"Children, come inside! Recess is over!" said Trina, coming outside of the schoolhouse.

"Miss Watson, everyone's being mean to me," said the king, "especially Greg."

Trina patted the boy on the head. "No, not everyone is being mean to you. I'm not, am I?"

The boy looked sullenly at the floor.

"Now go inside. Greg," --she looked at the older boy-- "try to be more sympathetic to Jule. You know he just lost his dog last week."

Faith watched the children file inside then he bounded up the hillside. The hole wasn't that big, Faith would not be able to stand at his full height inside, but it was deep and it was dark. He crept in a few steps, hunched over, and cracked his head against the ceiling trying to steady himself when his foot slipped on something resting on the gravelly floor.

The marble.

He picked it up, studied it, and slung it down the tunnel. Faith paused, listening, but not so much as an echo reached his ears. He sighed. He was a fool to think there really might be a dragon. Supposedly they existed long ago, but even if they had, they were now only legends. Besides, what dragon could fit in a hole this cramped?

Faith managed to twist himself around with some difficulty and crept out of the hole.

When school ended for the day, Faith approached Erin and asked, "How closely do the two of you watch the children?"

She shifted nervously on her feet and couldn't, or wouldn't, meet his eyes. "As closely as we can, sir. Honestly, we can't keep them all in sight at once. There are only two of us. It's actually nice with you hunters around. We can get some classwork done while you watch the children out at recess. We try our best, but sometimes we just have to trust that when we turn our back on one child to help another, that child behind us is still there. We're only human."

"I'm not saying it's your fault," said Faith. "I just wanted some honesty. By the way, are you familiar with the game 'Feed the Dragon'?"

"Not really. I didn't grow up around here."

"All right. Just checking."

*     *     *     *     *

He ate dinner with Dask in the inn's common room. Dask had found no bodies, which hadn't come as a surprise to either of them, so Faith told him his theory.

"I think it's the kids. They're offing each other and the teachers are too blind or too stressed to notice."

"You realize," said Dask, "that you're going to need an enormous amount of proof before you start accusing children, especially children this young. Their parents aren't going to buy it."

"Of course. They're their parents. Each parent wants to think the best of their kids."

Dask shook his head. "No, it's not that. Parents aren't stupid. They know their children's faults. But nobody expects this much from even the most maladjusted seven-year-old. They're at an age where they don't understand the consequences of their actions."

Faith stopped eating in mid-bite, swallowed. "No, they do. Believe me, they do."

*     *     *     *     *

Both hunters took up watch on the playground over the next few days. Faith kept his sword hidden under his cloak so as not to alarm the teachers. He did not expect to use it against the children, but it might be a useful threat. The kids played Feed the Dragon almost everyday, and something about the game kept bothering him. Eventually, Dask was the one who hit on something.

"The king always goes in by himself. If the kids are killing each other then they can't be doing it in the cave because there's no one else in there."

And the king emerged each time. But the children were only afraid going in. They were angry when they came out. So what then were they afraid of?

"It's got to be the game," said Faith. "They play it like it's a religion."

"That kid--Greg you said he was?--seems to be the ringleader. He's almost always the one shouting out the orders."

"That's because he's usually the one who starts the game. Typically the person who gathers everyone together to play winds up being the herald."

"How does this game work again?"

Faith sighed and said, "The idea is that a dragon's going to invade the kingdom. To placate the dragon you've got to feed him. The herald lists the dragon's demands one by one to the subjects, the rest of the players. Then they've got to search the playing area for those items. If the herald approves of the subject's selection, the subject becomes a knight. Once three knights are chosen the game enters the next phase.

"That's when the king is chosen. Any player who is not the herald or one of the knights runs and hides. For some reason or another there is no king, so the king must be found and it's the knights' job to do that. It's like a mixture of hide and seek and tag. The first guy a knight tags is the king--or queen if it's a girl.

"The king is then given the tribute items to go feed the dragon. The dragon's cave is anyplace out of sight of the rest of the players; behind a building, another room of someone's house, or in this case, a hole in the hill."

Together they watched another kid get sacked as the king. It was the small one who had hid behind Faith the other day. He had been king yesterday too.

"What I don't get is," said Dask, "if the king is so great--I mean, don't most kids want to be king?--why do they always make the weakest child the king?"

"Because..." And Faith's blood chilled. "If the king fails, he dies. The dragon eats him." He shook his head. "But I looked in that hole! There's no way there could be a real dragon! Even I could barely walk in there. I had to hunch over like a fire newt just to get inside."

Dask looked at the group of children going up the hillside. "It couldn't hurt to check it out again. The hole might widen up further in. Besides, this children's game of yours is sick. I don't think we'll do any harm by disrupting it."

Faith scoffed as Dask darted up the hill. "It's normally a harmless game!" he shouted after him.

Still grumbling, Faith followed and reached the hole at the same time Dask did. The knights had just pushed the king inside, the first time Faith had seen them resort to force. The king had always been afraid, bullied, but he walked in on his own two feet.

The knights turned to see the hunters and bunched together in front of the entrance.

"What do you want?" demanded the one on the right. To Faith's surprise, it was Eddy, the one he had seen crying not one week ago. He knew the boy had returned to school, but he had missed him out on the playground.

"Just to take a look inside," said Dask.

"You can't," said a girl. She had been a knight many times before.

"Why not?" asked Dask.

"Because someone's feeding the dragon?" said Faith, dropping to one knee so he could see her at eye level.

She seemed surprised at Faith's words and squirmed. "Yeah. You know you've got to wait. The king goes in alone. Those are the rules."

"That kid's life might be in danger," said Dask. "You've got to let us pass. This isn't a game anymore."

"Who said it was a game?" said the third knight, a boy. "You're just like the teachers. You don't believe anything we say. You don't understand!"

"Try me." Dask's eyes grew steely.

"No," said Faith, glancing at his partner. To the knights he said, "We're hunters from the guild in Aiedo. We came a long way to save your school, and if there's a dragon in there then we're dragonslayers and we're gonna kill it. There's nothing in the rules that says you can't kill the dragon, is there?"

The knights shook their collective heads.

"Good."

"Yeah, kill that thing," said a new voice.

Faith turned to see Greg standing behind them.

"I'm tired of this," said the boy. "It's hard, getting people to go. I want it to end."

"Aren't you the one-" said Dask.

"We'll take care of it," said Faith.

Greg did not miss Dask's implication though. "I did what I had to," said the boy, setting his jaw. "No one would listen and the dragon was gonna eat the whole schoolyard if we didn't feed it."

Dask snapped. "Then why not be the hero and be the king? Why do you have to beat up other kids and shove them in there?"

The boy's face became cold. "Because if someone's going to die, I don't want it to be me."

"Smart," said Faith, mostly to himself as he stood up. "The herald is the only player in the game who is never at risk. A knight's position must be earned, but the herald is just whoever starts the game. But by starting the game..."

Greg shifted uncomfortably. "Are you going to kill the dragon or aren't you?"

Faith watched as the king returned from inside the hole. The kid's face was grimy with dirt and tears, but he was otherwise unharmed. He seemed surprised to see the two hunters by the entrance.

"We'll kill it," said Faith, brushing back his cloak to show the children his sword.

He bent over and crept inside. It was annoying that the tunnel was tall enough that the children could stand but an adult could not. Why couldn't they have found a bigger cave? Dask, even taller than Faith, had an even greater problem.

"There isn't the room for me to use my slicers here," he warned.

"Hey, you're the one who wanted to go inside," said Faith. "Let's just hope this tunnel widens like you think it might."

And it did, quite suddenly.

Faith fell with a yelp and landed on a soft mound of dirt, some of it moist and oozing.

"Ow," he muttered. He couldn't see a damn thing in this darkness. Only the barest of light filtered in from the tunnel above.

"You okay?" asked Dask. He didn't sound that far above him.

"Yeah, but be careful. That drop is pretty sudden." Faith stood up and found he no longer needed to duck. "I can feel some air down here. I think I'm in a cavern. And, ugh, something sounds squishy."

"Squishy?"

Instinct made Faith dodge, and something hissed where he had just been standing. Acid.

"There's something down here, Dask!" Faith drew his sword and lit up a foi in his free hand. The glow from the flame danced around the cavern, showing its size and its shadows, and the fleshy blue behemoth in front of Faith.

"Meta slug! Get down here!"

He hurled the foi at the giant boneless creature, incinerating the next spray of acid aimed in his direction. "So much for dragon's breath," he muttered, stumbling back in the dark.

Light burst out again as Dask jumped down. He held a torch, which he stabbed into the dirt pile on which Faith initially landed. Dask drew his slicers. "So how do you want to tackle this thing?" he asked.

"I'll take front, you take back, and oh crap..."

The actual skin of a meta slug is transparent. The blue color only comes from the bodily fluids beneath, and because the skin was transparent, Faith could see all the way down into the monster's gut.

"Snap out of it, Faith!" Dask's slicers winged around the slug's body, nipping two of the sensitive antenna on its head. "We can't save that kid. We've got to think about the others."

Faith shook himself. It had been several days. The kid, this must be Paul, would have been in here, digesting, for far too long to still be alive. That mess, what remained in the monster's gut, barely looked human anymore.

He darted left, moving quickly to the meta slug's right side. The pyramidal shape of the monster did not turn swiftly, and its head, though near the apex, was still on one particular side of the body, limiting the range of its acid spit. With no definite neck the head could barely turn, the monster's lack of a skeleton working against it.

Dask's slicers whirled, tearing holes in the rubbery skin. Fluid oozed out with the consistency of oil. Faith slashed his sword in deep, trying to damage as much membrane as possible. Meta slugs had little in the way of vital organs. The quickest way to kill one was to bleed it to death.

A tremor ran through the monster, making more of its fluid spurt out.

"I don't like the looks of that," said Faith.

"It's gonna topple!" yelled Dask.

"Topple?"

The meta slug gathered itself and bowled its mass to the side Faith was on. With a shout, he tumbled back to the front of the beast, which was exactly what the slug wanted. Faith saw the mouth open and he whipped his cloak around. The clasp broke as he flung the material between him and the acid. It blocked most, but not all of the deadly liquid. Small flecks sprayed past, scoring his arms and face.

"Are you all right?" asked Dask.

Faith gritted his teeth against the pain and swung his sword at the slug. "Just peachy." He ripped a gash in its front and dashed right. Lying on its side the slug could not raise itself in time to prevent Faith's attack against its vulnerable underbelly.

The two hunters tore in, now protected from the meta slug's acid spit by its own body. Dask's twin slicers created a web of fluid and Faith hacked through the translucent muscles near the foot of the slug. After several minutes the monster ceased to twitch.

"Damn," said Faith, dropping to one knee on the cavern floor. He leaned heavily on his sword, stuck point first in the packed earth.

Dask put away his slicers. "Here, let me take a look at your face."

"I'll be fine."

"No. There might be some permanent damage if you don't let me treat it."

Reluctantly, Faith sat still as Dask used the res technique on him. Though he couldn't deny it was useful, he never learned it himself. The healing technique always made his skin crawl, as if he could feel each individual little cell divide and realign itself. He would rather have waited until they returned to the school so he could make use of a monomate there.

"Let's search the rest of this cavern and see if there's anything else," said Faith, standing up.

*     *     *     *     *

When they emerged later that afternoon, most of the children had gone home, though there were still a half dozen in the schoolroom when the two hunters entered.

"Oh my!" said Trina, eyes darting over all the muck and grime on the both of them. "When the children said you went to slay a dragon I thought it was just another one of their stories."

Faith scowled. "And when they told you their classmates were being fed to a dragon you also thought that was a story?"

"I never told you..."

"I know you never told us that. You thought it was just a story. Well, you should have listened to them, because the ones causing those kids to disappear were their own classmates! Maybe that wasn't a dragon down there, but it ate them all the same." Faith shook. "How could you not realize the stronger, more popular students were the ones surviving and only the kids the others didn't like or care about were the ones disappearing?"

"Well I- They're just children!"

"Faith, calm down." Dask laid a hand on his shoulder.

He shuddered and took a deep breath. "You'll find all the bodies in that hole on the hill. Most of them are just skeletons now. There wasn't much left after... after the meta slug got to them." His voice strained as he fought for control. "I don't know how it started, but the kids believed there was a dragon in there and incorporated it into their game. If they had to sacrifice someone to the dragon they picked the kid they liked the least. If he was lucky or a good player he could become a knight and avoid being sent in the hole where the slug might find him. If he wasn't... You might think they're just children, but believe me, children can be cruel."

Faith turned to go. As he left he heard Dask working out the payment arrangements with Trina, including the cost of a new cloak. Hunters could ask for payment in addition to the agreed upon fee if unforeseen expenses occurred. It shouldn't have been necessary for the cloak since hunters expected to get roughed up a bit during their battles, and these were poor people besides, but he had a feeling Dask did it more to distract the teacher and give Faith time to recover.

The other teacher, Erin, stopped him by the door. "I know Trina's upset," she said. "I know we don't want to believe that the children are capable of that, but I want to thank you. We'll watch the children better in the future."

"Um, you're welcome," muttered Faith.

Dask caught up to him outside. "They'll forward the guild our payment. I managed to haggle you a new cloak in the bargain. What's the matter? I didn't think you'd be this upset. You didn't even want to do this mission."

"I didn't, but I can't stop thinking about it. I just didn't think we'd be saving kids from other kids. Sure there was a meta slug involved, but they chose who was going to die."

Dask nodded, quiet. "Yes, they did."

Faith sighed, sorrowed, and lifted his head to the sky. "What kind of world is this when children sacrifice each other to save themselves?"

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