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Sins Of Faith
by Rune Lai


The chilly night of the temperate desert coated the foothills of a small valley far to the south of the city of Aiedo. The group of them had fled helterskelter across the desert, without much rhyme or reason in hopes of throwing off pursuit, but always they stayed together. Though most decisions came about through consensus, in truth Faith lead them. Even when common agreement would otherwise point in a different direction, they trusted him. In return he tried his best to trust them as well, never failing to ask their opinions, to learn more about them, to understand what they saw.

He wanted to give them more than just blind faith, and that need became even greater as he felt he himself to be blind. Instead of dying as punishment for the death of his guild partner Dask, Faith had chosen to break out of the prison with his fellow inmates and try to make a new life for himself, for all of them. It wasn't that he had been afraid to die. He never would've become a hunter if death bothered him. Maybe he was only fooling himself, but he told himself it was because he didn't want to die for the wrong reasons. If it had been for Dask, he would have died, but he didn't want to die because the tribunal could not believe his words, that they thought he was lying or feared what he said enough to deny it.

Maybe he could not tell the truth of exactly what had happened, but he had told the truth as he knew it and no one could have asked for more. People needed someone to believe them, to believe in them. Faith wanted to give them that chance. His band of former criminals had rallied together as both surrogate family and comrades. He had not been wrong to believe in them.

But were they wrong to believe in him?

Almost everyone in their band huddled around a campfire, trying to get a bit of its warmth as they went to sleep. During the nights, they always had two people on watch. One would mind the fire and the other, currently Faith, would keep a lookout for pursuit farther from the camp. At the moment though, three people were awake. Jared had come out to talk to him, to discuss a topic Faith could not yet bring out before the group.

"We're about out of money and none of us know ryuka," said Jared, holding his meseta pouch up to the moonlight and then wadding it into a small ball. He shoved it in a pocket. "When I came to Aiedo I didn't think I'd have to buy food for so many of us. I should have bought a telepipe..."

Jared hadn't been a criminal, though he might be now. He had fought hard in Faith's defense against the tribunal and refused to accept their sentence. More than even Faith, he would not bow to what he believed to be a great injustice. Jared had another life, a far more settled one as the owner of a wealthy merchant house. He had hired Faith and Dask to handle a difficult problem and out of gratitude had traveled all the way to Aiedo to return the favor.

Faith sat, brooding, on a rock across from Jared. He would have liked his cloak, the one he had bought only days before Dask's death, but he refused to complain about the cold. A leader needed to know how to give. Though the cloak had survived the ratty stay in the prison with him, he had given it to Erin to help keep her warm. Like Jared, the schoolteacher had come to Aiedo to help the man she believed in, and now she endured like the rest of them.

"Even if we had a telepipe, where would we go?" said Faith. In front of Jared he could let the desperation show, and it hurt so vividly. "You're not a hunter, you haven't seen how the guild operates, but if there is a sizeable bounty on our heads, and while there might not be any at all for you and Erin, there certainly is for me and the others, then the first thing any reasonable hunter is going to do is teleport to every ryuka node on the planet. It's better to hide out in the desert until things blow over. Then we can find a place to settle down." He looked up at his friend. "And I know I've told you before, but you and Erin should go home. There's no reason the two of you have to stay with the rest of us. You have lives to go back to, you have Patrick to look after, and if you're lucky you might not even be wanted by the hunter's guild."

Jared sighed, sitting down on the dirt beside him with a crunch. "We do, but we didn't mean to free you only to leave you out here. As for Patrick, he's almost an adult. He can take care of himself. And I thought that maybe I could hide you in Kadary for a while and I'd see Patrick then. Then you could move on from there."

Faith considered it. "That's a nice thought. Maybe we will go there eventually. I'm not sure I can break up the group though, and it will be difficult to hide so many people. We shouldn't have to hide."

"Maybe you won't have to someday. Has your god said anything to you lately?"

Faith shook his head. "No." He hadn't heard his god since the night they left the jail, and he questioned if he had been right to believe. People depended on him now. Most of them would likely be executed if they were ever caught.

"Where are we now?" he asked.

"According to my caravan maps we should reach the mountain hamlet of Beppi late tomorrow morning. It's out of the way. We might be able to hide out there for a while, maybe even earn some money to buy some food if the locals are willing. Our supplies are almost out. In any case, they don't get many strangers outside of the occasional caravan so it's probably best that only a couple of us go in while the rest hide in the foothills."

The advice was nothing new. They had done so at the few villages they visited since their escape. Seeing a pair of travelers passing through was so common that they had acquired supplies without a second thought from the locals. Perhaps the guild had picked up their trail afterwards, but at least while they were there they could pretend to be ordinary citizens.

"I'll go into town this time," said Faith, nodding his head absently, "but this time I'll go by myself."

* * * * *

After seeing his band safely settled out of sight of the village, Faith walked into the hamlet alone. He couldn't stand the thought of sending anyone else in his stead. If someone was going to have to beg for work he'd rather it be him. It was his fault everyone followed him now, and if he was wrong in what he believed in, then they all would suffer for his delusion.

He carried that last bit of meseta Jared had brought with him. It would buy enough food for a few more days' travel if necessary. They might get to another, larger town by then, but while that would present a greater opportunity for them to find food and shelter, it would also increase the chances that they would be found. A band of criminals would be hard to hide.

The hamlet had only one general store, a spartan structure that sold little in the way of basic goods. It had only one door in and out of the building and a single table of any size. Shelves lined the walls, but they were rickety things a good bump with the shoulder could topple. The proprietor explained that the locals by and large handled their own affairs and only used the store for what they couldn't make themselves. Mostly, the store served as the liaison between the caravans and the town.

"Do you know if anyone here could use a little help in the fields?" asked Faith. "I have a few friends waiting outside of town and the group of us are looking for work. We don't need the money," he added, seeing the hesitation on the merchant's face, "just food and supplies if they can be spared."

He knew Jared would have preferred the meseta, so that they could use it when they got to the next town, but as Faith looked around the store, he doubted the locals used currency so much as barter. None of the goods had signs posted listing the price, not even the ones that surely must have been imported via caravan.

"We'll see," said the proprietor, mashing a strip of jerky between his teeth. "What are you doing all the way out here and why aren't your friends with you?"

Faith couldn't give him the truth. He didn't want to lie. After everything that had happened to him, he wanted most to be able to stand firm and tell the truth and be accepted for that truth, but he couldn't do that. People counted on him. It wasn't just his life anymore and he couldn't see these villagers offering work to escaped criminals from Aiedo. As recently as a couple months ago he probably wouldn't have either. He'd once been a hunter. He would sometimes hunt down such criminals.

"We're tired and we've gotten lost," said Faith as he bowed his head. "My friends are didn't come inside with me because we thought you might be startled to see a group of strangers without a caravan. We thought if only one person came it might be easier to negotiate for work. We're almost out of meseta" --at least that much was true-- "and we're not sure we can make it to another town even if we buy all we can here. If we can just work for a few days, a week, whatever you can afford, then maybe we can leave better rested and with enough supplies to last us the rest of our journey."

The proprietor ruminated on that, twitching the strip of jerk from one corner of his mouth to the other. "How many of you?"

A dozen. But that would be too many. A dozen should be in a caravan.

"Four of us," said Faith.

"It rained recently."

"Yes."

"Do you know much about rockfruit?"

Faith did. The fruit was as tough as sand worm hide in its unripened state; completely unpalatable to Parmanian stomachs. But come a heavy rain and the rockfruit plant would absorb so much moisture it swelled like a bladder. The leaves would inflate, heavy and thick, and the roots stretch tight into underground reservoirs. Then for the next week or so the plant would steadily feed the water into the fruit, causing the flowers on their tips to blossom and the fruit itself to grow soft and ripe. Rockfruit only remained ripe for a few days, making it an unreliable crop, but useful if harvested at the right time. Fortunately, dehydrating the fruit soon after it had ripened did not return it to the fibrous texture it possessed before the rain, and perserved it to the point that a well-dried sample could still be edible over a year after it had been picked.

"You need help picking the rockfruit?"

"Not me," said the proprietor with a flick of his jerky. "But others might. The last rain was good to us. There's more fruit than we can pick. Some people might be grateful for the help."

"Thank you. Might you know who I could ask?"

"I do, but I won't be the one to tell a farmer he can't handle the lot on his own fields."

"That would be me."

"Of course." The proprietor sniffed. "You're rather slow for a hunter."

Faith's instincts leaped to the fore, madly searching for a target. He could barely stop himself from reaching for the sword he no longer carried. Something of the wariness and fear must have shown on his face because the proprietor waved him down.

"Undercover mission, retired from the guild, I don't know what your circumstances are for being here," said the proprietor, "but I do know from the way you walked in my store that no matter how battered and tired you are, you are a person who has had to handle himself at the limits of his endurance. In most cases, those people are hunters. You sized up this place the instant you passed through the door. Most people don't worry about any strategic value to the placement of the furniture."

"So I can't work here?"

"I didn't say that. Get some work if you need it, but I want you to know that just because I live in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean I'm stupid. Hunters generally aren't the type to get themselves lost. If you're here, you're not here because you're some dumb hick who can't read a map."

Faith nodded. "Thank you. May I-?"

The proprietor took Faith's words as a request for permission to leave and granted it, but that was not what Faith had intended to say. He meant to ask the propietor for his name, so that he could remember it and be grateful, but then realized that he could not return his own. He might never be able to give his name to a stranger again.

So Faith just bowed his head in farewell and walked out the door.

* * * * *

He told the farmers even less than he had told the owner of the general store, though he had no way of knowing if they were as persceptive as the proprietor. He reduced his story to simply needing enough food to make a safe journey to the next town, but he still kept the number of his companions to three, with himself making a total of four. Not a single farmer would take them all, but after much pleading and cajoling, he managed to get four families to adopt a worker each.

The next day he took Poul and two others into town with him. He wished he could have brought more, maybe not the full dozen, but maybe another two, but there was only so much work and he did not want to give the impression that they could overwhelm the village at any time. Even the addition of the four of them made the hamlet feel that much more crowded.

Before leaving, Faith laid some ground rules for how the group would function. He and the three working him with him would not stay in the village at night, even if offered shelter. If they had to make up an excuse, fine, but the entire group would reconvene at night. No one was to feel abandoned or envious because a select few could sleep under a roof instead of the stars. Also, if the workers left as a group at the end of each day, the villagers would see it as routine, rather than the subterfuge that could be interpreted if each worker individually snuck off during the night. Thirdly, Faith knew that this would ensure that each worker brought their share of earnings back to the group. He didn't think any of them would intentionally horde food away from the others, but sharing earnings meant for four with a group of twelve meant that rations had to be established and distributed on a timely basis. Missed meals, however small, would mean shorter tempers and he wanted to keep everyone's spirits up.

He didn't know how he would do that or for how long, but they needed to last as long as it took for them to find a home, a place where they could be accepted and exercise their second chance. Society had abandoned them, but he would not.

Jared and Erin remained behind in joint leadership while he served in the village. Neither of them had asked for the responsibility, but he trusted them and he thought that their consulting each other might do them both some good.

Since he might be inaccessable once out in the fields, he asked the worker group to report to Poul if in any event Faith could not be found quickly enough to consult. Poul had once been a petty thug, cowering before the strong and threatening the weak if only to assure himself that there was someone worse off than him. Brains were not thought to be his strong suit, but he had come into his own through Faith's confidence in him. Though he had never told Faith the reasons he followed him, the former hunter understood what had set him on that path. When Faith called upon the power of his god to free them from their physical prison, he had power, a power unlike anything he had ever seen. But what made Poul stay was Faith himself.

Even Mita healed in the presence of him. Once confined to an asylum for the insane, she had grown comfortable with the group, singing for the first time without fear of the cold glares of others. New things still scared her, but she could face them with her friends, her family. With Erin's help Mita could tend the fire and help cook.

Leah, once a forgery artist, had discovered a well nearby. It was not deep, but had enough water to suit their needs in the meantime, and in the coming days the water would serve to extend what food they had. And Vell, a thirteen-year-old girl who had the audicity to try destroying the hunter's guild with dynamite, had discovered a wild patch of rockfruit.

Things looked like they might be harsh for the group, but bearable. And so for the next week they settled into a routine. All supplies earned came back to the camp, the campers added whatever they scavenged, half would be stored for the coming journey, and half eaten as dinner and the next morning's meal. By Faith's estimate, they would be able to leave in another week or two.

"We've been lucky that the hunter's guild hasn't caught up with us yet," said Jared, feeding the evening fire as Faith doodled notes in the sand with a piece of their firewood.

"It was taking the path through the gorge that saved us," said Erin. She scrubbed their sole stewpot with sand to clean it. "The rain flooded it and the hunters would've had no way of knowing where we came out or if we did at all."

Faith sighed and laid back on the rough earth. "That was a freak storm though. We were already in the gorge by the time we knew it was coming. I'm just glad we got out before any of us could get swept away. By the time we would've seen the flood it would've been too late."

"Food. Clean," said Mita, licking the serving spoon.

Erin gently pulled it from her hands. "No, Mita. Clean it with sand, like this."

Jared turned from the two women and looked back at Faith. "Speaking of food..."

"We're making good progress," said Faith.

"That's not what I meant. You need to start eating more. I know you're trying to give a little extra to the rest of us, but you're doing some backbreaking labor out there and you need your strength. We can't afford to have our leader pass out on us."

Leader. Leaders had responsibilities though. A good leader should never hold himself above his subordinates and indeed should always give more of himself than others. Faith had never been a leader before, but somehow he knew that to be right. That was what he would want himself in a leader.

"It's just for a little longer," said Faith at last. He was young and strong and could hold out. "I'll be okay."

A strong gust of wind hurtled through the camp and Mita squealed. The fire vanished, leaving them in the inky blackness of the desert night. Eventually, their eyes came to adjust to the starlight and Jared muttered a curse as he fumbled for some kindling. Faith propped himself up on one hand and lit it with the foi technique.

"No... No," muttered Mita.

Erin held her and gently rocked the woman as she would a child. "Shhh... it'll be okay."

Mita shuddered and whimpered. "The darkness doesn't like the sun, so it puts out the fire."

"No," said Faith, his eyes distant as he stared into the flame. "The darkness does not fear the sun or the fire. It just wanted to remind us that it was there."

* * * * *

The afternoon sun beat down on Faith as he laid out the last slices of a load of rockfruit for drying. The harvest had largely finished, but with so many fruit the villagers agreed to keep them long enough to help with the drying as well. Hauling his now empty sack back towards the storeroom he spotted a gathering in the distance at what passed for the village square. Surprised, Faith deposited his sack inside and walked towards the crowd. He did not think these laconic people came together lightly, especially when they had only these few weeks to complete the harvest and drying of the rockfruit.

He glanced around the back of the crowd and saw that his three companion workers had already arrived and so, much to his confusion, had Erin. In the center of the mob of twenty or so villagers was a battered man curled up on the ground. The store proprietor stood before him with Erin not a pace away.

Faith pushed his way to the front. "What's going on?" he demanded.

The proprietor glanced at him and then back to the man on the ground. "This isn't any of your business."

"I and my companions are seeing something that we will remember when we leave this village. That makes it our business."

"Do not meddle, hunter. We discovered your band of twelve not long after you told us that there were only four. We don't presume to know your reasons and gave you the benefit of a doubt. We have left you alone, now we request the same."

Erin couldn't meet Faith's gaze. "I'm sorry. We only spotted them today. I tried sneaking after them, but he" --she glanced at the proprietor-- "found me and insisted I come along. I couldn't think. I didn't know what to do."

"It's all right," said Faith. To the proprietor he said, "I may be guilty of lying. I'll admit that. But if you saw my band, then I hope you understand that we mean you no harm. We could've come together into your village, but out of consideration for your feelings we did not. We are not hunters. I was, but I am no longer. We only wished for the food and supplies to continue our journey."

"And you'll have them." The proprietor gestured to him in dismissal. "Now leave us to our affairs."

"No."

"No?"

"I can see the stones in your people's hands, the clubs and the rope. What did this man do?"

"He killed Rinth's boy!"

It was not the proprietor who spoke, but someone else from the crowd.

Faith looked at the man curled on the ground and saw only fear. Whether or not that fear came from guilt or innocence Faith could not begin to presume, but the fear was real.

"Who saw it?" asked Faith, turning so that he could scan the faces of the crowd.

The proprietor glowered. "Why should you-"

"I was a hunter." Faith smiled mirthlessly. "I have some experience in dealing with crimes. If no one saw him do it, then how can you know he really did it?"

"Our seeing the crime does not determine guilt or innocence. He is one or the other without interference from us. The fact remains that he took Rinth's boy hunting with him without permission when the boy had not yet come of age. Len's a good boy and wouldn't have gone without some convincing, which means that Brey here went out of his way to put Len in danger. Brey is a piss poor hunter and isn't too stupid to know it. It matters not whether he shoved the boy to his death or abandoned him to the monsters. He had no right to take Len with him hunting and now Rinth and Nina have lost the last of their children."

"I'm sorry," said Faith.

"Sorry? You didn't even known Len. How can you be sorry."

"I can feel for his loss. I might not have known him, but because you are all standing here, he must have meant much to you. But... killing Brey is not the answer."

"It is our law here, not yours. Keep your judgments to yourself."

The proprietor stepped back, giving room for the rest of the crowd to throw, but Faith took his place, standing between Brey and the mob. From here he could see the faces of his companions, interspersed with the crowd. Poul looked grim, Erin worried, but they did not move. He prayed that they would be understanding enough to let him handle this on his own.

"If you kill this man he will never have a chance to learn from his mistakes."

"He won't. He never has."

"Whether he does or does not is irrelevant. I'm talking about offering him a chance. It's up to him whether or not he wants to take it." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Brey stir, saw the faint glimmer of hope on the man's face. Faith pressed on. "Do you condemn this man because you know the truth of what happened or because you do not understand him, why he did the thing that he did? Because if you knew him, truly knew him, not a one of you would stand here now with a stone in your hands."

A stone whizzed by Faith's head, though it did not strike him or Brey. He turned to the one who had tossed it, a silver-haired man standing beside a frail woman well into middle age. Rinth, if Faith was not mistaken.

"Knowing him won't bring Len back!"

"No, it won't," said Faith, "but he could share in your sorrow."

"Laws must be upheld," said the proprietor.

"Laws have only the power you give them," he countered. "They bind you because you let them bind you. If no one follows it anymore then it is no longer a law. I won't let you take this man's life just to satisfy law and nothing more! Who among us has not sinned? Who hasn't committed a horrible mistake they wish they could take back if only they knew how? Who would wish to be in Brey's place now to pay for that mistake? I would not wish that on anyone, so if standing in your way means protecting him..."

Someone threw a second stone. This one did not miss. It struck Faith in the head, a sharp edge digging deep enough to draw blood. For a moment he reeled, dizzy. A third stone flew by, so close he could feel the air brush his arm.

"Please," he said weakly. He tried to raise his head, but he couldn't find the energy. "Sometimes you have to have faith in a person."

"You can't have faith in a murderer," said the voice of the proprietor.

But if having faith was a sin, there was no hope for this world. Blood swam in his eyes and he couldn't tell if the murderer was him or Brey. Probably him, because he killed Dask. But he deserved another chance, didn't he? Didn't everyone? My god, if you're there, where are you? I'm going to die and everyone is counting on me. Don't abandon me. Please. Please.

Faith found himself and caught the fourth stone in his hand. The rough shape cut his fingers and palm, but he did not mind the pain. It reminded him that he yet lived. He was strong. He would live through this. "Listen to me," he said, and his voice had filled with a certainty he had never felt before. "Faith is trust that cannot be proven. You have faith in your friends, faith in your laws. Faith can be given easily to some, more difficultly to others, but to truly have faith is to believe in that which no one else will accept. Faith in Brey's guilt comes easy to you, because you all agree. Faith in his innocence is difficult, because none of you want to believe it. But faith is not determined by your will. It's determined by your heart.

"Faith," he said, his voice now dwindling in intensity, "is what tells you that it's okay to believe in something or someone. I have faith in Brey, I have faith in myself, I have faith in all of you. I believe that you can make the right choice, that you can decide to end things the way you feel they should rather than how you think they should."

He dropped the stone. It clattered loudly against the rocks on the ground. For a moment it was quiet, then the gravel crunched beneath Erin's feet as she came by his side. She looked at the wound on his forehead, but at a warning glance from him, did not move to heal it as Faith waited for a reply.

"Fine," said the proprietor. "But the lot of you are to leave at once, and take Brey with you. Don't come back here again!"

"Thank you. You have been generous."

The proprietor couldn't seem to decide whether or not Faith was sincere, and left in a huff. It didn't matter to Faith. He had just saved a man's life. "You'd better hurry and pack," he told Brey. "We don't have much time."

After all the people save them had left the square, Erin gently touched his arm. "Faith. When you spoke just then? Your eyes! They were glowing--red like the sunset."

* * * * *

They probably had enough from their own foodstuffs to make it to the town of Dep, again according to Jared's map. Faith did not feel any regret in moving his band out earlier than anticipated. Sometimes, he told them, you have to make sacrifices for faith. Brey seemed reluctant to head out with them, as the understanding dawned on him that the others saw Faith as a kind of spiritual leader.

"Do you really believe I'm innocent?" asked Brey, watching as Faith finished bundling together a bag of rockfruit.

Faith knew his answer would not give the man the solace he expected of him, but he would say the truth. The truth, even a cold one, was better than a lie. "I never said that I did or I didn't," he said. "I'm tired of people abandoning each other. No one should have to believe that they're alone in this world. If you wish to follow my lead you can come with us. If not, you're free to go."

The odds of survival were better in a group, so Brey stayed, at least for the meantime, but Faith thought it possible he would eventually decide to stay permanently. That first night traveling again was not so bad. Mita danced for everyone, getting Poul to accompany her. Leah told some lewd jokes and Vell rolled her eyes at the maturity of the adults. Still, life was not so bad.

Faith wanted to sit by the fire with some company, but because he lead them he was apart from them by necessity of leadership. He found he had actually hoped Erin would come talk to him again, perhaps about what she saw in him in the village, but she sat with Jared now, discussing something with him amidst the laughter of the group.

He got up and walked away, not with the intention of abandoning the group, but just to give himself some space with which to think.

Self-pity does not become you.

No, it doesn't. But you came back to me today.

I never left. Your sorrow, your agony, called out to me and I could not ignore it, but I am not a dog to be beckoned and summoned at will. Surely, you know better.

Who are you? What are you?

You have already answered those questions yourself or you would not be speaking to me.

Do you have a name?

Many.

Which one would you like me to call you?

Whichever one pleases you. I do not have the attachment to names that Parmanians do. In time you will discover the name that has the most meaning to you, and that is what you will call me.

He paced a bit, wearing a circle in the sand. I don't know where to start with you.

What did you call me for?

To help people. I'm tired of the suffering. I want it to end.

So do I.

You were able to give me power before. That was you at the hospital, and again at the prison, wasn't it?

Yes.

Please, give it to me again so I can better protect people. Sometimes they just don't understand each other and no one will give them the second chance that they need. Look at the people with me now, they are whole, they are real people once again! They wouldn't have had that if not for me.

Power does not come without a price. As a hunter you paid for it in training. There is no training, however, for the magic I can give you. So what then shall you sacrifice for this power?

Faith stopped pacing, uncertain. I'm not sure. How do I know you'll honor our agreement? I apologize for asking, but this is the first time you've openly spoken with me.

You must believe me, because there cannot be partnership without trust.

All right. I'll trust you. I have Faith. I am Faith.

The voice in his head chuckled. Though Faith is who you are that is not what you must be. What will you give?

My right arm.

Why that?

Because I am a swordsman, and this is the arm with which I wield my weapon and with which I will fight in your name.

Very well then, but it shall no longer be with a sword that you shall fight.

Pain filled him, and for a terror-filled moment Faith thought he had been wrong to trust, that everything had been lie, but then the power filled him and he realized the it only hurt because his body was being asked to absorb so much all at once. As a hunter he spread the pain over years to learn his trade. Here, the learning took seconds.

A name. A new name came to him, for he could no longer be Faith and still be the vessel of the Darkness.

Zio. Its meaning flowered in his mind. It was a word from a language long forgotten. It cried out in hope and agony, oozed from the dying and gave pause to the living. It was a word. It had a meaning. It was sacrifice.

In his god's name he would sacrifice.

He would.

He did not know how long he had laid on the sand. It felt like an eternity, but the stars had scarcely shifted their position. With effort he managed to sit up, but it was difficult because his right arm would not support his weight. He could barely see it in the starlight, but it had become blackened and twisted, useless for holding a weapon. He would never wield a sword again, but he would not need to, for in that arm he felt the power he had asked for. Magic. True magic. Unlike anything Motavia had seen for as far back as recorded history!

The voices around the fire shushed when he returned to the campsite. They stared, but there was something more. They could feel the power coming from him. They knew he had spoken with his god. He would have to fashion a gauntlet of some sort to hide the arm from the eyes of others, but here, in front of those he trusted most, he could let them see.

Though he had not yet told them his new name, he could read it in their eyes. His god had spoken to each of them, even Brey, who now cowered by the fire. It was only a word, but it was enough.

Mita swooned. "Oh, Zio! Zio, the holy one!"

* * * * *

It took them three more weeks of meandering to reach Kadary. By then, the group felt safe. The hunters wouldn't find them. They were looking for a band of bandits lead by a former hunter named Faith, not a religious order run by a man called Zio. Patrick was overjoyed to see the group, even though it was so much larger than he expected, but he couldn't understand why his adopted father's friend kept his black cloak wrapped so closely around his arm. He would find out eventually.

Time passed, and Jared took him to a site he had picked out with Erin. It was a wide vacant lot on the western part of town. It was naturally level, and could support quite a sizeable building, bigger than anything else in Kadary, possibly even bigger than anything in the city of Aiedo.

"I have the money," said Jared. "You just give the word."

He looked up, imaginging not the empty sky, but the walls of a massive cathedral dedicated to his god. It would have rooms for acolytes, a library for study, a hall for worship, and so much more. No one would be turned away. Anyone who wished to learn would be allowed inside. For the disenfranchised, the forgotten, for those whom others just will not understand, he would be their leader and offer them sanctuary.

"Yes," he said, "please do."

Erin came beside him now, eyes bright already with the possibility of students. She loved her work and missed her classes back in Mile. She would not have to wait much longer. Already their numbers grew.

"And we will teach them," she said. "We will teach them all that your god has to offer."

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