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Sins Of The Fallen
by Rune Lai


The cell was grimy and a little damp. Aiedo had more important things to look after than the comfort of criminals. All that mattered, really, was that they could not escape. To that end the walls had been built with stone rather than molded from the less labor intensive adobe. Techniques would not avail anyone who wished to knock them down. Someone had been kind enough to leave a small window in the side of the wall for light, but steel bars dissuaded any thoughts of climbing through to the outside. A nafoi might melt them, but there probably wasn't a single person in Aiedo who knew how to use it. Most people had no need to learn techniques that powerful.

Including Faith, who was a hunter. No, who had been a hunter. Though he had yet to go to trial he had no doubt that his license had already been revoked. There had been too many people who had seen him kill Dask, and when the tribunal called him he would not deny it.

Besides, even if he had known the nafoi technique, the shiny new manacles fastened around his wrists limited his movement to a degree that technique casting was difficult if not impossible. Aiedo took few chances with criminals, and Faith had become one of the worst kind.

He already knew what his punishment would be: death by crucifixion, the fate of all murderers, left to waste away in the dry desert clime if the monsters did not feast on him first. Faith had heard that once a man became delirious enough from the dehydration he would soon wish the monsters would feed on him. At least then the suffering would end.

Faith supposed he deserved that fate, but even though he regretted what he had done, he couldn't regret the why. He had wanted to help people. There was nothing wrong with that.

He looked up as he heard footsteps approaching the barred door of his cell. One of the prison guards thumbed through a ring of keys. At last finding the one he wanted, he pushed it into the lock and gave it a quick turn.

"Faith," said the guard, "you have someone here to see you."

The heavy door swung open and his visitor stepped inside. The young man looked around with a mixture of caution and curiosity as though he had never seen the inside of a prison cell before. He probably hadn't.

"What are you doing here?" said Faith.

The man turned back in his direction and winced as he heard the steel door clang shut behind him. "I came as soon as I heard of your arrest. I don't suppose you remember me?"

Faith nodded. It had been several months, but his had been one of the more memorable cases Faith had handed. "Jared Connerly," said Faith. "Are you still taking care of that kid? What was his name?"

"Patrick," said Jared. "He's back home in Kadary and he's doing all right. In fact he's minding the house while I'm gone. I think he's pleased that I'm willing to trust him."

"At least something good came out of it."

"What about you? What happened? I only heard that it was a murder... "

Faith sighed, his breath ragged. "It was a mistake. I'd rather not talk about it, but, yes, I did do it. Someone's dead and it's because of me."

"But not without good reason, right?"

Faith thought back, remembering the lives of the insane he had saved; insane but innocent all the same, the dregs of society that no one else would have helped if he had not come for them. They hadn't deserved what they had gotten, but neither had Dask. Did anyone?

"Given what I knew," said Faith, "I did what I had to, and someone got in the way. I had a reason. The tribunal will decide if it was a good one."

Jared nodded. "I wanted to find some other way to thank you for helping me back then, and now might be the best time. It might not be much, but I have some resources here in Aiedo. I think you're a good man, Faith, and you don't deserve to be executed. I've obtained a lawyer for you, so you'll at least have someone on your side during the trial."

Faith looked down at the manacles that chained his wrists together. "Thanks. That means a lot to me."

"What about Dask? Is he here?"

"No. He won't be."

Before Jared could ask more, the guard came to lead him away. Faith did not watch him go, and felt his heart drop like a stone as the door shut behind him.

* * * * *

Several days passed as Faith waited for his trial to get underway. The city leaders and the hunters were still fixing up the mess left behind from the dynamite attack that had destroyed much of the old mental hospital and the mysterious wind Faith had summoned had all but leveled what the dynamite had spared. If not for the damage wrought on the building and its neighbors his trial would undoubtedly have come about much sooner.

Jared came visited him a second time and introduced him to Bran Pellor, the lawyer he had found through the recommendation of a friend. Bran needed to know the story from Faith's point of view and how he wanted his case presented. When Faith inquired about the cost, Jared just shook his head and told him not to worry about it.

He hadn't wanted to relieve that night in such detail, but Faith agreed that Bran needed to know. And so before the two of them, he quietly told what had happened, how he had wanted to help the mentally ill trapped inside the building and barged inside against orders from the guild. His partner, Dask, had tried to stop him and the two had gotten into a fight. Faith hadn't meant to kill him, but that didn't change the fact that Dask was dead. Were there witnesses? Yes, far too many. He wasn't sure, but he remembered two of the insane had survived long enough to see him confront the last desperate farmer turned bandit. When the farmer lit the last of the dynamite with the intent to kill himself and everyone around him that's when Faith had felt the wind come to him, and he used it to extinguish the dynamite. He had passed out shortly thereafter. When he woke the insane were gone and the farmer was dead.

Was Faith charged with the farmer's death as well, Bran wanted to know.

No, he wasn't. The farmer's death would have been acceptable given the circumstances. The hunters and militia had already killed most of the farmers by the time Faith had even arrived.

Jared seemed withdrawn upon learning that the death had been about Dask, but when he spoke he said, "You're a good man, Faith, and we won't let you die. What happened to Dask is terrible beyond words, but I don't think two wrongs make a right. There must be some way we can make the tribunal see that."

In the meantime, Faith did his best to get by. What few times they allowed him out of his cell he used to exercise or to help the other prisoners around him. He got to know them by name; Leah, Hern, Poul, among others. One was in for forgery, another for being a pickpocket, and the list went on. At first they gave him width berth for being an accused murderer and a former hunter besides, but he won their respect by always being fair and never belittling them.

Though he could not condone what they had done, neither could he presume to hold himself above them. They were people, who like him had made a choice, for good or for ill. The evening before his trial they said they would miss him, because no one was ever pardoned.

Faith slept well that night, though he didn't understand how he could have, and in the morning the door to his cell opened unexpectedly early. The guard ushered a young woman inside, and if Jared had been unsettled by the inside of a prison cell, she seemed outright intimidated.

"I... I thought it might have been you," she said, barely meeting his eyes as the heavy door clanged shut behind her. "It took a long time for the news to get as far as Mile, but I had to be sure."

Faith looked at her curiously, trying to place where he had seen her before. He had only been to Mile a couple of times in the past, mostly recently to investigate the disappearance of a number of schoolchildren. She must have been one of the schoolteachers, not the one who had refused to believe him, but the other one, the quiet one who had barely spoken to him.

"Erin?" he asked, her name falling into place. "What did they say about me? It's a long way for a schoolteacher to come here."

She looked away and nervously clasped her hands before her. "I know. They didn't say much though. A merchant caravan arrived in town and it originally came from Aiedo. They said something about a hunter killing his partner so he could save some insane people. It wasn't much and they didn't mention you by name, but I remembered how you handled the children and thought the insane couldn't have been much different. They are also helpless and outcast.

"You think about people in ways that others can't or won't. I know it's a bit of a stretch to put the two together, but there is something unusual about you that makes me remember and I just had to come see for myself if it was you. I'm sorry about the loss of your partner. I'm sure he was a good man, but you are too. And it just seems such a waste..."

Footsteps came their way and the door opened again. Faith looked up to see Jared and Bran accompanied by a guard. Jared nodded to him, eyes bright with challenge. "It's time, Faith. Are you ready?"

* * * * *

The group of them went to the hearing before the tribunal. In the first session the justices would hear the testimony on both sides of the case. In the second they would decide his fate. After passing their sentence the city would handle the execution of his punishment.

Faith walked in the lead with the prison guard beside him. Jared and Bran conversed in hushed tones two steps behind them and, though no one asked her to come, or told her not to, Erin quietly brought up the rear, her head lowered in thought.

The Aiedo courthouse was a fair-sized building, on par with a family dwelling as opposed to a market stall. Smaller towns didn't even have one, and by those standards, Aiedo's was a luxury. But then, Aiedo also had more people, more crime, than the towns and villages elsewhere.

The group of them entered the larger of the two courtrooms, generally reserved for major crimes involving multiple victims, though occasionally used for the rare times Aiedo scheduled more than one trial at once. Also, the larger courtroom had room at its head for the hunter's tribunal, which only held session when one of its own committed a crime while on assignment representing the guild.

The five justices of the tribunal had already arranged themselves on the bench by the time Faith entered the room. As required by guild regulation, none of them had witnessed the crime. Normally Neal, the nominal head of the hunter's guild, would serve as chief justice, but not today. He had been the one to arrest Faith the day of Dask's death. Today he would serve as prosecutor.

"Faith Tragon," said Neal, "you are brought here before the Hunter's Tribunal charged with the death of Dask Lungred. Do you understand the charges?"

Faith bowed his head. "Yes, I do."

"And how do you plead?"

"Guilty."

"Then you may be seated."

Faith took his seat in the defendant's chair with Bran sitting on one side of him and Jared on the other. Erin watched the proceeding from a bench farther back where she could not be mistaken for a participant.

Neal paced before the judges as he said his opening statement. The middle-aged hunter's eyes was not quite as good as they used to be, and he adjusted his glasses as he looked in Faith's direction. "We have several witnesses who saw Faith kill his partner, Dask, and we will call them to provide their testimony in due time. According to eye-witness accounts, Faith and Dask were seen having an argument when Faith cast a zan technique on his partner. The technique was strong enough to hurl Dask into the air, causing him to land with enough impact to break his neck. Dask Lungred is presumed to have died at that moment."

Faith listened to Neal speak and knew in his heart that he wouldn't walk free. Though Bran promised him a surprise witness, the lawyer acknowledged it was a gamble that could very well backfire, but if Faith would be sentenced to die anyway, it was worth the chance. He found it strange, fighting for his life when he had so easily taken another's. A part of him wanted to say that it wasn't right to even try, that he should be punished for what he did to Dask, but the rest of him wanted people to understand that it had been a mistake and to forgive him.

"The defendant understands the charges," said Bran, standing up, "however we would like the tribunal to understand that his acts were done in the name of compassion and to grant him mercy."

"We will hear him," said the chief justice. "Faith Tragon, please tell us your side of the story."

Bran sat down and motioned for Faith to have his say. Faith took the stand and for the second time relived the night a band of desperate farmers took a hospital hostage in hopes of receiving some crops to help alleviate the stores they had lost to drought. He did not gloss over what happened between him and Dask. They had argued because he wanted to enter the smoking hospital against the guild's orders and Dask tried to stop him, not only because of his own orders, but because he feared for Faith's safety.

Faith's voice was raw as he told them, "Dask tried to disable me with the rimpa technique. I knew I couldn't let him stop me, so I tried to fight back. I... I don't remember what was going through me head, only that I couldn't allow myself to become paralyzed. I cast the zan technique. It was only supposed to fling him back, disrupt his concentration I think. It was an accident. It wasn't supposed to kill him."

But that was not the end of his story. Could he make them understand what had gone through his head? He wanted to tell them about the hospital, how all this happened because he had wanted to help those trapped inside, but the tribunal had evidently heard enough. They asked him to take his seat and called for the prosecution to bring forth its witnesses.

Neal had assembled quite a group. Faith recognized Kyle Gorman and Lily Yolen, Oleg Sanden and Deek Scorbin, and nearly a half dozen others. He had known many people had seen him, but for the first time he was aware of who those people had been. What did they think of him now? He lowered his head in shame as each recounted where they had been and what they had seen. Not all of them had witnessed the entire ordeal, but together they painted a picture more detailed than even Faith could remember. He couldn't see how Bran could possibly help him. While the witnesses agreed that Faith had run into the damaged hospital after having killed Dask, they disagreed whether or not he looked horrified by what he had done. Faith feared his remorse might be the only thing he had going for him, when Bran stood up to announce his own witness.

"While we do not dispute that Faith Tragon killed Dask Lungred, he did not do so out of malice and as he stated himself, it was an accident. What the prosecutor's witnesses have said is largely correct, but they are missing a vital part of why this tragedy happened in the first place and the reason we ask for leniency. My client was trying to help people trapped inside the building."

"Are you speaking of the asylum patients?" asked one of the justices.

"Yes," said Bran.

"There were none left," said Neal. "They all had died by the time we got to them."

The lawyer shook his head. "No, according to my client there were two of them still alive when he got to the upstairs of the hospital. I was able to locate one of them and I've invited her here today to testify to Faith's good character and how she would not be alive today if he had not come and rescued her."

Neal looked at Bran with disbelief, but it was the female justice on the far right who said, "You expect us to accept the testimony of the mentally ill?"

Once again, Bran said, "Yes."

The chief justice nodded with perhaps an air of reluctance and said, "Very well, bring her in."

Bran turned to look at the bailiff, standing by the door to the courtroom. "Would you please bring in Mita?"

The bailiff disappeared and Faith looked at Bran questioningly.

"I barely found her in time," Bran whispered. "She had started living on the streets after fleeing the hospital. Mita sometimes sees things that aren't there, but after talking with her for a while I've discovered that she has some lucid moments. She was feeling pretty good this morning so I decided to chance her."

When the bailiff returned he had a slight unkempt woman, perhaps in her early thirties. She trembled and had a wild-eyed look about her. She reminded Faith of a beaten dog, seeing enemies all around her. The bailiff guided Mita before the judges and when he left her she let out a small yelp.

"So you are Mita," said the chief justice. "Do you have a second name?"

She shook her head. "I am Mita. Only Mita."

"Do you recognize this man?" The justice pointed towards Faith.

Mita shuffled around to look at Faith, then, turning in a complete circle, she faced the justice again. "Yes. I rec... recognize him. He fought the man."

"Which man?"

"The man with the fire sticks. He stopped him. He went phoosh" --she gestured proudly with her arms, as though as pleased with the fact she remembered as the memory itself-- "and then the man stopped."

"Could you please be more specific?"

She nodded emphatically. "Like a dust storm without dust! He screamed and the wind went round and round and round and-"

"Hm, she does bring up an interesting question," said Neal, turning from Mita who had begun to illustrate the speed of the wind with the spinning of her arms. He looked at Faith. "What was that technique you used to put out the fire? I've never seen it before."

Faith felt himself recoil from the question, though his mind told him that he hadn't so much as trembled. He took so long to answer that one of the justices prompted him that he must respond. He didn't know where to begin. The thought was so fantastic that he hadn't considered how it might present itself in court.

"I don't know," he said. "It came to me like magic." He paused. "It was magic."

Neal raised an eyebrow as if he couldn't believe Faith would say something that stupid and Bran seemed inclined to bury his face in his hands. Jared regarded him with some concern, but Mita spun gracefully in the middle of the chamber singing "Magic, magic, magic!"

The chief justice shot Mita a look so stern she ceased her dance and mumbled a retort at the floor. Seeing calm return to the courtroom, he turned towards the former hunter and said, "Faith, could you explain what you mean by magic?"

"There is no other way to explain it," said Faith. "What I used there was not a technique. I am a technique user and I know what it feels like when one is cast. The sensation when I called up the wind was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The power that summoned it came from outside of me. I don't know how to describe it. I wanted help, to stop the farmer from detonating the dynamite, and it was like something out there answered, and I got the power I needed."

"And that's the best you can tell us about it?"

Faith shook his head and met the justice's eyes. "It felt very old, like I was tapping into something that's been around for longer than any of us have been alive, like I touched a god."

"The wind saved me, protected me," murmured Mita, rocking herself back and forth on the balls of her feet.

"What's she still doing here?" asked Neal.

Bran glared at him. "She's here because until you brought up Faith's technique-"

"He said himself it wasn't a technique."

"-she was telling us that he saved her life."

"And that technique was a part of that, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Faith slowly, though he could tell Bran did not want him to speak. "If not for the wind, that magic, Mita and I would quite likely be dead. I would not have been able to put out the dynamite in time without resorting to a physical struggle with the man who held it. He was desperate and I doubt I would have been able to wrest it from him in time."

"Faith!" cried Mita, suddenly whirling to face him. "Be not afraid. Rise up and stand proud for you are savior and leader. You dance the rappies of shadow."

"Mita," said Bran, "please tell the tribunal how grateful you said you were that he saved you."

"No, I think not," said the chief justice, after a conferral with his peers. "The tribunal deems Mita unfit to serve as witness. We cannot trust that her words will be her own or of her own cognizance. Now, if the defendant would continue his explanation of this power he encountered in the hospital..."

"I am grateful, right?" said Mita, eyes still locked on the black-haired defendant. "My faith, you are the shade that protects us from the sun."

* * * * *

The court adjourned shortly thereafter, taking closing statements from Neal and Bran. Judgment would be passed the following day and the guard lead Faith back to his cell. Bran fumed the entire way back and wouldn't speak to him. Jared just told him to get a good night's rest, and he tried to do that. He really tried.

"Faith! Faith, you awake?"

If he had been asleep he would have missed Hern's voice all together. He couldn't see very well, given the poor amount of light that came through the window of his cell, but if Hern looked as bad as he sounded the man was in terrible shape. Hern's incarceration had not been kind to him, having been of poor health even before he got caught for pickpocketing.

"What?" said Faith, standing up to walk as far as the bars of his cell.

Hern lay sprawled on the floor of the cell across from him, hugging the frame of the door. "Faith, I... I think I need a doctor. I'm very tired... and I can't breathe."

Faith could barely hear him, but he told Hern not to worry and shouted for a guard. Leah and Poul heard him further down the way and took up the cry.

"Guards! We need a doctor!"

"There's a sick man!"

"Somebody help!"

But no one came.

Faith felt useless.

"Hern? Are you still there?"

A ragged moan came in reply. If Faith listened carefully, he could hear the hoarse passage of air through Hern's throat as he breathed.

"Just rest where you are," said Faith. "Someone will come by eventually. If you can just hold out until morning..."

"I... had always hoped... that there would be something better than this, that out there there was somebody that cared, even if no one else on Motavia did."

"I care," said Faith, surprised by how much he meant it. "It's just not right, it's not fair, that anyone should have to die in a place like this thinking nobody cares about them! Maybe those of us here have made some mistakes, but nothing deserving of this!"

Hern coughed, or chuckled. Faith couldn't tell which. "Thanks," said the former pickpocket. "But that's not what I meant. I... remember... when I was a kid there was this guy who used to talk to the sky and said it talked back to him. I thought he was strange, but now... I know the chances of there being a supreme being are pretty remote, but now that it's come to this, I would've liked there to be one. I'm... kinda scared. I guess... there's not much after this."

Religion had never been strong on Motavia, but Faith could understand how comforting it would be to know there was a grander scheme at work, that there was someone who cared. He remembered crying out in the smoking remains of the mental ward, how he would have given anything to stop the tragedy that had happened.

"Maybe there isn't," said Faith after a long silence has passed, "but I think, no, I believe that there is a power greater than ourselves and it's watching us. This life might be a world of suffering, but it knows that and it's willing to help us."

"How... can you know?"

Faith looked at his chained hands, though they looked perfectly normal to him. "When I called for help, it answered. And it was more powerful than anything I had ever felt. The winds put out the fire and blew off the roof of the building I was in."

Hern sighed and rolled his head to the side and up so he could face Faith. His skin was shiny and sallow, sunken around his eyes. "Could you... call it again? I would like to see..."

"I don't know, but I could try."

Faith concentrated hard, trying to will the wind to form around him again, but he couldn't feel so much as a breeze. It was not a technique. He couldn't control it like one. It was so much stronger.

"I guess there isn't a god," said Hern, laying his head down with a sigh.

"No, I suppose," said Faith, but I want to believe!

Faith felt something itchy around his wrists and looked at his manacles. They were rusty.

* * * * *

The next morning one of the guards made a choke of disgust as she discovered Hern's body. Help arrived shortly to clean out the cell and remove the corpse for a pauper's burial. The cell did not remain empty for long. The guards tossed in a kid barely out of puberty.

Faith had watched the guards come and go with a face as impassive as stone, but now he stood close to the cell bars and called out softly to the huddled form curled up in the far corner of the cell. "Hey, you there, why are you here? You're much too young to be spending time in a place like this."

When the kid looked up at first Faith thought it was a boy, but it was a girl with unusually short-cropped hair. He had assumed she'd been crying, but her eyes were dry--only sad.

"What's it to you?" she sniffed.

"I'm curious," he replied. "I suppose that sounds strange coming from a man behind a set of bars, but that doesn't mean it's not true. What could someone your age do to warrant being thrown in here?"

"Plenty. What're you here for?"

"I killed someone."

"I would have killed a lot more."

Faith paused, reading the dissatisfaction written across what should have been a pretty face. "But they stopped you."

The girl didn't answer, instead rolling over onto the floor so she had her back to him. He figured the conversation was over and turned away, but then he heard her say, "I tried blowing up the Hunter's Guild. That's why I'm in here."

"With dynamite?" he asked, remembering how the disgruntled farmers had taken the hospital hostage with the stuff.

"All that my parents didn't take with them."

"I'm sorry," said Faith. So many people had died in that building. It had all been so senseless. He bowed his head. "I was there that night. It might not mean much now, but if I had been able to, I would have saved them."

The girl peeked over her shoulder after he said that, but then Jared and Bran entered the hall with one of the guards.

"It's time for your sentencing, Faith," said Jared grimly. "Let's hope for the best."

Faith nodded as the guard let him out of his cell. They lead him away, but he couldn't shake the sight of the girl's sad grey eyes following him down the hall as he left.

Erin joined the group of them as they walked, surprisingly leading Mita by the hand. The disheveled woman trembled, but refrained from babbling as she had the day before. Erin seemed to have a calming influence on her.

"So this is it," said Erin. "What do you think they'll decide?"

Jared exchanged glances with Bran who gave the slightest hint of a shrug. "We really don't know."

"Calling on Mita might have been a mistake," said Bran, "but without her we probably would have had no chance at all."

"Is dy-?" muttered Mita, perking up. She pawed in Faith's direction and then looked imploringly at Erin when she couldn't reach him.

"I've pleaded guilty," said Faith. "I know what I did. Whatever they decide I've earned it."

"I don't know about that," said Bran, but when Faith pressed him for details he wouldn't answer.

* * * * *

They arrived once more in the courtroom. The five justices had already seated themselves and two of them engaged in muttered conversations as the other three glanced over their notes. Neil sat at his prosecutor's chair and Erin took a seat on one of the benches, softly patting Mita's shoulder as she guided her down beside her. The madwoman sobbed with an eerie silence.

"We await your decision," said Bran, with a nod of his head.

Faith could have seated himself, but he remained standing, looking up into the eyes of the chief justice.

"The tribunal finds Faith Tragon guilty of murder. The plea for leniency is denied. He is sentenced to death by crucifixion. The city of Aiedo will handle the execution of his punishment. He is to return to his prison cell and be barred from leaving for any reason until the sentence is ready to be carried out."

"What!" demanded Jared, flying out of his seat. "Didn't you listen to him at all? It was an accident! And at least one of the patients from the hospital survived! He was trying to save lives!"

"We are agreed that he tried," said one of the justices, not unkindly, "however murder is not the path he should have taken. The tribunal has determined that Faith was not in a proper state of mind that night, and that might have clouded his judgment, but it was a judgment nonetheless. Dask's life was not worth what he saved."

"But doesn't his intent count for anything!"

"Let it rest," said Faith, surprised at the fury still in Jared's eyes as his friend turned towards him. "I got what I expected."

"But it's not right. Don't you think... Don't you think that if Dask could still speak to you, he would forgive you? Don't you think he would understand? Would he want this?"

Faith hadn't thought about that. He had only known the law and his own pain at losing a companion. What Dask himself would have said had never occurred to him, and truthfully he didn't know. He had trusted his partner with his life, and Dask the same, but Dask thought more of the law than Faith. Dask would certainly plead for leniency, Faith decided, but he would not let him go unpunished.

"It doesn't matter anymore," said Faith, lowering his head. "Dask is gone. That's why I'm here."

But Jared was persistent, dogging him even as the guard lead him back to his cell. After the guard saw Faith firmly locked inside, Jared still stood outside his cell talking to him, trying to elicit some reaction besides a fatalistic acceptance. At last Jared shook his head in frustration and whispered something to Bran who grimaced and tapped the guard on the shoulder, leading him away. Erin stepped out of their path and Mita blithely waved farewell.

"I can't believe you're just going to give up," said Erin, looking at him through the bars between them.

Faith met their eyes, one pair at a time, a part of him surprised they still were there. "It's not that I'm giving up so much as I accept it."

She shook her head. "I know what you did was wrong, but is dying the best way you can honor Dask's memory? Or using what you can of your life to make things better? No matter your crime, there is still so much you can do. You save people."

Mita nodded sagely, her eyes clear with understanding. "With death they remove all chance of forgiveness. Is killing you more important than forgiving you?"

Faith chuckled. "Even if I begged for a last minute pardon, I doubt they would give it to me. Remember, I'm now a crackpot who believes in magic."

"And touched a god," said Jared solemnly.

Faith's heart sank in his stomach. "Yes. I wasn't sure for a while, but now, I don't know what else it could have been. It helped me. I can't deny that there was something greater than myself involved, and it gave me the power to stop that farmer. It's with me even now. I can feel it. The sensation has been growing ever since the trial. Mita and I wouldn't be here if not for it, and you must have seen what the hospital looked like when you arrived in Aiedo. Neal couldn't explain it either. That was not a technique."

"No. I agree with you. That was far too powerful. But wow... A god?" Jared sighed, not in dismissal of Faith's words, but rather in sympathy. "People have worshiped many gods over the years, but yours... Yours might actually be real."

"I wish I had something to show you, something substantial. One of the other prisoners, he died last night, and I tried to show him, but I couldn't do a thing. How can I make you believe what I can't give you anything more than circumstantial evidence?"

"You don't have to show us anything," said Erin. "We trusted you before and we trust you now. I don't think you're crazy. Neither does Jared. There's something special about you that makes you different, god or no god. Why else do you think the two of us have come all this way to see you again? You helped us when no one else could and we haven't forgotten that."

"Let's call it a leap of faith, if you'll forgive the pun," said Jared, his face lined with determination. "We might not have seen your god, but we believe in you. Remember what I told you when you explained to me how you killed Dask? I still mean it, and I've talked about it with Erin. She's willing."

"What about Bran?"

"He's not a part of this. His job is over. He might suspect, but he's done all I've asked of him. Just wait for us, we'll do it tonight."

Wait for us. At first Faith wasn't sure what Jared meant, but then he thought back to when Jared first learned of Dask's death from his own lips. You're a good man, Faith, and we won't let you die.

Did they? Did they mean to free him? But the walls were built of stone! They were specifically made to repel techniques from both inside and out. Were the two of them going to attack the guards? He couldn't image either Jared or Erin resorting to brute force. They were only civilians, not hunters or thugs.

He couldn't let them do something like that for him, but for the first time he could see what they believed in. He had made a difference, even if he messed up this once, did it outweigh all that he had done before, all that he could ever do in the future? It was wrong, the government would never forgive him, but what good was a government that cast out its own people? What about those people who no one else cared for? He could help them, if he was free.

He waited in agony as the sun set, dreading the fall of night and what would happen when Jared and Erin arrived. Would he go with them? Would he dare? Or would he tell them to leave, to not waste such time on foolish hopes? But they had not been foolish to trust him before.

With difficulty, Faith removed an amber pendant from around his neck. He regarded the memento, pendant and chain cupped in his hands, with the reverence reserved for a treasure. Perhaps that's because it was to him. He never failed to wear it on every job he took. It was a part of him, perhaps the only thing that remained of what once was. A family heirloom, his mother had passed it on to him when he joined the guild. "For luck," she said, before joking that he should someday find a girl to give it to.

Weak, Faith collapsed to his knees and prayed; for hope, for guidance, to simply know that someone cared.

* * * * *

A pebble landed in his cell late into the evening. It had come through the small window on the outside wall. He didn't want to acknowledge it, but knew deep in his heart that his friends had made some valid points. Perhaps it wasn't right for him to presume he knew better than the law, but he had seen pain, seen loss, and how following the law did not always work, how one could not always believe that things would turn out for the best. Some people had no where else to turn; people like the disenfranchised farmers, people like Mita.

Faith raised his face to the window. "Jared?"

His friend looked up from a small bundle he was holding.

"What are you doing?" asked Faith.

Jared held up a single tube with a wick and Faith inhaled sharply. "You didn't think they'd just get rid of it all, did you?" said Jared, wedging the dynamite into the earth at the jail's foundation. "I'm only using a little bit. It should be enough to break the walls around your cell without collapsing the building. You'll want to stand as far back as you can... Erin's standing watch with Mita but she'll probably signal that people are coming as soon as it goes off."

"Jared, no."

"No?" His friend stood, looking at him incredulously. "This isn't a matter of right and wrong anymore! Don't you see? They're executing you not because you killed someone, but because you can't explain what you did to put out that fire!"

"That's not what I meant," said Faith, feeling the strength that came with acceptance rise from the depths of his gut.

To become a law unto yourself.

His god was with him. He had fallen, and now he had nothing more to lose.

"Take back the dynamite, Jared. You won't need it."

Faith raised his arms to the starlight and the rusted manacles, once so polished and new, now withered to dust around his wrists. He swung around, to face not the bars of the window, but the bars of his cell. His god filled him and they burst into a shower of glittering ash.

"I'll only be a moment."

Jared stared in disbelief. "What... What was that? Where are you going?"

"To free the others. We all go or none of us do. We all have sinned. That I should be lucky enough to have good friends is no reason that they should remain behind. They're no less deserving of a second chance."

And he walked, from cell to cell, waking each inhabitant and inquiring if they wished their freedom. He freed the girl who tried to destroy the Hunter's Guild, Leah the forgery expert, Poul the thug, and gathered around him a small band numb with awe of the power they witnessed with their own eyes. It came from belief, he told them. Somewhere, there was a higher power, and it would give them this second chance at their lives.

"I won't ask you to follow me," he said, "but those who wish, may."

Jared watched in amazement as Faith returned to his cell, a group of eight men and women behind him. Faith raised his hand to the barred window and their last barrier to freedom disintegrated into a cloud of dust. The window was barely large enough for a grown man to squeeze through, but they managed, those on the outside working to help those on the in. Jared reluctantly aided the first one through the window, and then gaped in surprise when the man thanked him. From the inside, Faith lifted the girl and the others so they they could escape, then, being still fit from the days before his imprisonment, he leaped up to the window and pulled himself through.

"Let the tribunal explain that," said Faith, walking away from the prison.

He saw Erin up ahead, her mouth open in shock, but Mita merely nodded as though nothing could be more natural. Something was missing though, and he turned around to look at the jail behind them. Though he could no longer see it, he knew what he forgotten.

"Where do we go from here?" asked Erin, looking from Jared to Faith and then the band behind him. Not a person had left.

Faith bowed his head. Somewhere, inside the confines of his cell, he had set down his pendant, and never put it back around his neck.

"I don't know yet," said Faith, finally meeting her gaze. "For now, out of Aiedo will be enough. The rest? I guess that's what faith is for."

Without another backward glance he walked away. And they followed him, out into the desert.

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