Sins Of Humanity
The cry went up all over Aiedo in the middle of the night.
Emergency! All available hunters report!
Faith woke to the distant sound of Dask's voice as his partner pounded
on the front door. "Wake up! We've gotta move!"
Confused, though oddly still sedate due to his sleep-fogged brain, Faith
roused himself. He groped for his shirt and pants, slung over a nearby
chair, and managed a muffled "I'm coming!" as he tumbled out of bed,
tangled in his sheets. With a curse, and now wide awake, he got to his
feet and grabbed his clothes. It took a moment for him to dress, then
he used the foi technique to create a ball of fire in his hand. With
its light he found his sword and the last thing he never left home
without, an amber pendant shaped like a teardrop.
"Faith! Hurry up!" More pounding.
He slipped the pendant's gold chain around his neck and dashed from the
bedroom. His cloak, a new one of black cloth since a meta slug had
destroyed the last one, was on the coatrack and he slung it around his
body as he opened the door.
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded.
Dask's face was grim. "The hospital at the end of town has been taken
over by bandits. They're using the patients as hostages."
"What? Why?" The hospital, specifically that one at the edge of town,
was not a place for treatment of the physically injured, not a place
where people took their loved ones to be healed. "Why not the mayor's?
Or somebody with influence?" It was an asylum, a place for the
abandoned. Only the well off could afford to pamper a non-working
member of the household. The rest, the ill, the disabled that no one
wanted or could care for, wound up in there where they subsisted on
whatever handouts the city could afford.
"I know," said Dask. "It looks like they wound up there just out of bad
luck. They botched a robbery or something and holed up there when they
couldn't escape. They reportedly have guns with them."
"Guns." Those weapons were relics of an ancient civilization that used
to live on Motavia. No one knew much about them, except the bits and
pieces the occasional archeologist would find. For these bandits to
have found a working gun, no, more than one, was incredible. He had
heard that those weapons could kill a person as far away as five city
blocks. "And someone's rousing every available guild memebr to fight
"Not just someone. Neal."
Neal served as the elected head of the hunter's guild and as the voice
of their community when necessary. He had no real power except as a
figurehead, but most people liked him enough to do what he asked. Neal
had never been a demanding leader.
Until, perhaps, now.
"I'm not saying I won't do this, but since when did Neal take it in his
head to volunteer the lot of us? Are we even getting paid?"
Dask shrugged and turned to go. "I don't know. I figure we can worry
about that later."
The two of them arrived at the hospital to find a barricade of hunters
and the militia formed in a ring around the building. Torches, placed
atop poles at regular intervals, provided some small amount of
illumination of the area. The asylum was in terrible shape, a
dilapidated structure kept just sturdy enough so that it wouldn't
collapse at a moment's notice. Most of the building's windows had been
boarded up, as likely to keep the inhabitants in as any intruders out.
The worn slats probably could be broken in a hurry if necessary. It
wouldn't have been among Faith's choice of places to make a stand, but
necessity chooses what it must.
"Hey, guys! Glad to see you could make it!" said a cheerful voice.
Faith turned to see Neal walking towards them. The older hunter clasped
hands with Faith and Dask. He was in his mid-forties with scraggly
brown hair and a pair of glasses that made him look rather academic for
the head of the hunter's guild. Local legend had it that Neal had spent
one too many assignments underground ferreting out monsters from their
burrows and eventually his eyes couldn't take the strain anymore. Faith
didn't know how much truth there was to that, but he did know Neal
rarely took assignments anymore and they were always above ground.
"Why are we doing this?" asked Faith.
"How could we not?" Neal's grin looked absurd against the gravity of
"If you mean the morality in helping someone in need, I understand, but
isn't this something that the militia would normally handle? We don't
fight in an organized unit. We're hunters!"
Neal nodded. "That's true, but," --he looked at the hospital-- "the
militia doesn't know how to handle something as complex as this.
Hostages, bandits, and ancient weaponry all in one building? Hunters
are used to thinking creatively. The militia is not."
Faith groused. "And who's picking up the tab for this?"
"The mayor has promised us a fair amount, but you realize that split
between all the participating hunters it won't be more than a token
"You're actually keeping track of who's here?"
"I know who's out of town on assignment: Gage Kippler, Mark Rawles, Alys
Brangwin, and so on. The rest?" He shrugged. "The guild isn't that
big. It won't be hard to go through the registry and figure out who
And with that Faith had to be content.
"I have a special task for you," said Neal.
"Whatever it is, we can handle it."
"Actually," --and a look of amusement crossed over Neal's face-- " the
two of you won't be working together on this one." Neal did not seem to
notice the looks of disbelief on the two hunters' faces. "Because of
the amount of people involved I'm dissolving the usual partnerships. I
know Dask is a slicer user and I need anyone with a decent range attack
to stay here. Faith, you're going to go hunting."
* * *
Faith actually wasn't the only hunter given that assignment, but true to
hunter fashion, he carried out his part alone. Neal sent out hunters to
scour the surrounding desert for the bandits' lair, to see what they
might have been after and what kind of equipment they might have brought
into the standoff with them. Several witnesses confirmed the bandits
had at least one firearm, but Neal wasn't taking chances on what else
they might have or how many. He sent out the hunters singly, in pairs,
trios, or whatever they felt most comfortable with and armed each with a
telepipe to use the instant information was found.
The sky was still dark, without a hint of sunshine, when Faith left the
protective walls of Aiedo. The starlight usually provided enough light
to guide by, at least for short distances. Faith stuck to the roads and
carried a lantern with him, unlit for now, but he would use it once he
The bandits had come at night, which meant they would have to have known
the local area reasonably well in order to find their way in the dark.
Aiedo rarely had trouble with robbery because of the hunter's guild.
Anyone could easily place a bounty on a bandit's head and someone would
go for it. These people, whoever they were, evidently thought
themselves hidden well enough the guild would not be able to identify
them after the robbery. Or, they were stupid. But he did not like to
think that stupid people had obtained guns. He had never fought against
a person with a gun before, but he had heard about the weapons. They
were tubes of metal that either shot metal pellets or a blast of light,
similar to the thu technique. Either one moved faster than a person
could dodge. The best way to avoid being hit was to avoid being
targeted in the first place. In close quarters such as the hospital,
the bandits would have the advantage.
Packed dirt crunched beneath Faith's feet as he thought about how best
to search his designated area. The farmlands on either side of the road
were parched without crops. The recent drought made for tough times in
a land where few plants grew to begin with. People had complained many
times at the town hall in recent weeks, but there was nothing to be
done. The mayor couldn't make it rain and the individual wells in the
city were not designed to help irrigate fields. Fortunately the city
had some food stored up, so any crops lost this season would not be
missed as much as they would have otherwise.
"Aw, hell," he muttered. "I don't even know where to start looking."
Even if the city was up in arms over the bandits, the countryside
wasn't. He hated to bother someone before the sun rose, but he tried to
justify it by telling himself that farmfolk were early risers anyway.
He picked a farmstead at random and knocked on the front door.
Several minutes passed before a light appeared in a room on the second
floor. Faith watched it travel further in, disappear, and then show up
against downstairs. A moment later, a young woman opened the door. She
held up a lantern to shine the light on Faith's face.
"Yes?" she asked him.
"Sorry to bother you this early in the morning. but we're having a
crisis in Aiedo right now and we really need the cooperation of the
farmers on the outskirts around here."
"Oh. Well, come on it. Keep your voice down though. The children are
She showed him in and set the lantern on a table as she gestured for him
to take a chair.
"So, you're from the militia?"
"No, I'm a hunter."
"I thought you looked strange for a lawman. What brings a hunter into
Faith, still sensative about the subject, wanted to snap that he was
only doing it so he wouldn't come off as a total jerk, but he swallowed
his irritation and said, "Everyone is being pressed into service, even
the hunters. A group of bandits have holed up in the hospital at the
edge of town. Yes, that one. They've taken the patients hostage
and we think they've gotten hold of some ancient weapons, which is going
to make prying them out of there even harder. We have reason to believe
that the bandits have been in the region for a while. They might not
have been active before now, but they still might have left some trace
of their whereabouts. Have you or your family noticed anything unusual
She shook her head and sank into the chair across from him. "No,
though, now that you mention it, we're missing a bushel of grain. My
husband was very upset about it because of the drought. The weather's
usually good enough that we don't need much in the way of backup
supplies. Missing the grain won't starve us, but it will mean a smaller
plot next season."
"Could I talk to your husband about it?"
"You'd better not." She sighed. "He's probably heard us talking
already, but he hasn't come down. He doesn't trust anyone from the city
anymore. It's the drought, you see. Everyone in the city seems to be
carrying on as normal, but we're not. We pay crops as a part of our
taxes, and its based on the size of the farm, not the size of the yield.
During good times that was not so bad. Even the small farms produced
more than enough. But now... We need those crops. We haven't the
meseta to purchase back what they take in taxes and the mayor isn't
listening to us.
"I don't want to sound cruel, but I don't think my husband is inclined
to help right now, not until his own needs are taken care of."
Faith nodded. "All right. Thanks for your time then. I'm not sure how
long this standoff will last, but if you hear anything soon, let the
He managed to visit a few more homes before the first aura of daylight
peeked over the horizon. The story was much the same; no sign of
bandits. He couldn't avoid hearing the disgruntlement rampant among the
farmers though. No one was outright hostile towards him, but they
plainly did not want to help the townsfolk, who they felt would not help
them in return.
Faith honestly couldn't see why Aiedo couldn't give them some of the
crops in storage. They didn't have much, but it was something. The
weather would improve eventually. Dry spells, while often unexpected,
were not unheard of, and it always got better. But then, Faith never
paid much attention to politics. Maybe there was another reason for
Too much time had passed, and he despaired of finding anything when he
spotted something in the shadows of an open barn. Someone had been
careless. He stepped inside, took a look around, and backed right out.
Something was in there all right. Something fine and grainy, and he
wasn't sure what. It didn't look like crops though.
Faith fumbled with his lantern under the starlight and lit a foi
technique in the palm of his hand. As he did, he saw just what the
powder was out of the corner of his eye. Parmanians rarely used it, but
the Motavians often did in their mines. Crackdust, they sometimes
called it, packing it deep underground to blow out chunks of rock in
their search for titanium. Parmanians had another name for it.
The flame disappeared from his hand as quickly as it had appeared. He'd
better report back.
Faith raised the telepipe to his lips and played the tune for Aiedo.
* * *
He arrived in time to feel the force of an explosion knock him off his
feet. Members of the militia scurried around him, hauling civilians in
tow and darting back for more. He first thought to ask someone what had
happened, but the smoke billowing from the hospital told him all he
needed to know.
People flowed around him, surreal in their flight away from their homes
and businesses. Aiedo was wide awake now if it wasn't before. He could
see the hunters ushering people away. The hospital looked on the verge
of collapse, a chunk had been blown out of the walls. There was some
screaming, but it couldn't have been from there. Faith was still too
He ran there, jostling his way through the crowd. People shouted at
him, but he pushed through to what remained of the security line. By
the time he reached it, few hunters and militiamen remained. Most
civilians had sense not to run in this direction. Those that didn't
were quickly herded away.
A hand grabbed his arm. "Faith! What are you doing here?"
It was Dask.
Faith shook his head, still trying to gather his wits. "I came back. I
had to warn you guys, but..." He sighed, looking at the damage. "How
did this happen?"
"We got in a fight," said Dask. "There was only one gun in there. I
don't know how Neal figured it out, but once we realized that we tried
distracting the guy with the weapon while the militia tried sneaking in
on the other side." Dask grimaced. Blood stains shone on the blades of
his slicers, held closely together in his free hand. "We did manage to
disarm the man with the gun, but we didn't realize that was not all they
had with them."
"The dynamite," said Faith.
"I gather that was what you meant to warn us about. Honestly, I
didn't think they meant to use it. They took quite a pounding from our
first assault before threatening to toss it out the window at us. We
pulled back, but there seemed to be some disagreement within the group
of them. Then the blast happened."
"What about the patients?"
"The hostages! Is anyone still inside?"
"I'd assume so. I haven't seen anyone..."
Dask did not get to finish his sentence. Faith lunged for the hospital
only to be yanked back by his partner's arm.
"What the hell are you doing?" Faith demanded. His eyes blazed like
"That building's going to collapse at any moment! Are you crazy?
Neal's orders are not to let anyone through until we get the area
evacuated, or haven't you noticed that there are still civilians running
around here? After that, then we can use our techniques to try shoring
up the building."
"I haven't forgotten, but look. If I hadn't noticed the dynamite I
wouldn't even be here right now. You can do without me. I can't just
leave those people in there. They might still be alive!"
"Faith, we're doing all we can."
"No, we're not," he said coldly. "Let go of me."
"I'm not going to let you hurt yourself..."
Faith tried wrestling his arm free, but Dask caught a fistful of his
shirt in his other hand. The two men grappled, Faith pushing and Dask
holding. He didn't know Dask would work this hard against him. Dask
was always the straight arrow, always the one following orders, but damn
those orders! There were people in there! If there was just one person
alive in there, one person he could save...
Faith remembered pain. He remembered the people on whom others had
given up; the sick, the rejected, the weak, the kind most no longer
cared about. He became a hunter to help people. He would
not give up! Someone had to help them, or no one else would.
Faith could feel himself growing dangerous.
"I'm sorry, Faith, but I think I'm going to have to..." Dask broke
away, raising his hand to cast a technique. Faith already knew which
one. Rimit. Dask meant to paralyze him.
He reacted, arm coming up, mental forces gathering, as his mind focused
the internal energy intrinsic to the casting of a technique. Zan. A
vacuum formed above Dask, powerful and strong. It pulled him up into
the embrace of the whirlwind, circled him once, twice, and flung him
back to the ground. Dask landed headfirst with a crunch, body tilted at
an odd angle from the neck.
Faith froze, horrified. Dimly, he was aware of the other hunters, the
remaining members of the militia, gathering round, staring at him. He
took a step forward, mechanical, as though to help his partner, but he
had seen enough death during his years as a hunter to not recognize a
corpse for what it was. The damage was beyond what even the rever
technique could heal.
His partner. And he had... No. He couldn't think about that now.
Then, one thought emerged above the rest.
If he could do one thing it would be this!
Without another moment's hesitation, Faith dashed inside. The building
smoldered, more smoke than fire, and the floor crunched like kindling
beneath his feet. He wrapped his cloak about himself as protection
against the soot and ash and pushed on. He could hear crying, babbling,
somewhere above him. The hospital, at two stories, was not very large.
The bandits, no, farmers, had been upstairs from what he remembered of
the initial standoff. But with the explosion and subsequent weakening
of the building, the second floor would no longer be safe-unless they
couldn't come down, or someone wouldn't let them. The first explosion
already showed someone's disregard for life.
Faith found a staircase. The explosion hadn't weakened it as far as he
could tell, but the smoke upstairs looked even worse than down below.
He covered his nose and mouth with the folds of his cloak and crept
upstairs. His eyes watered and the smoke was almost unbearable, but he
followed the sounds of the sobbing. He passed by things in the
shattered hallway of the upstairs that he cared to forget; remains of
those caught by the blast, now dead from the smoke or their wounds.
Careful, lest the floor disappear beneath him, Faith crept on all fours
to the one room where he still heard sounds of life.
He found a battered door and fumbled for the knob. Softly, he opened it
and slipped inside, shutting it behind him.
The windows were open in this room, the smoke not so bad. Faith could
not stand, but he could see. More corpses littered the room, these dead
more from the cuts of a blade than burns of a fire. In fact, only three
of the bodies in this room still seemed to be moving. A woman and a man
huddled in the corner of the room, one wild-eyed and the other
catatonic, and a lone man crouched opposite of them, several sticks of
dynamite roped together under his arm. In one hand he held a sword,
raised as though to keep the other two at bay.
This man looked at Faith, saw that he was alone, and scowled. "So," he
said, "the city finally decided to sent someone in to talk? A little
late for that seeing as how all my friends are already dead and those of
us still here are going to be dead soon enough. I don't give this
blasted place more than a few minutes."
"There's still time to get out of here," said Faith. "I just came up
the stairs and they're sturdy. You and the patients can get out of here
alive. Dying isn't going to solve anything. Come outside. I promise
you'll be treated fairly."
"No," said the man, and Faith noticed he was rather old to be a bandit
of any kind. He should have been home marrying off his children, not
cowering in a room with the insane. Blood leaked out from a raw wound
in his side. He would not live for much longer without treatment.
The man shuddered, clutching the dynamite. "If I leave here nothing
will change. I'll be arrested, but the city won't listen unless
something terrible happens to it. They have to realize that they can't
"Lower your weapon and put the dynamite down. Please," said Faith. His
voice was harsh from the smoke and his eyes watered. "You can let these
people go. They've done nothing to you. Holding them hostage has done
nothing for you. Surely you see that."
"I'd be just as happy if they'd leave, but I don't think they can and
I'm not about to help them out the door."
"They may be ill, but this isn't their fault. This isn't fair to
"No, it's not fair," the man snapped. "You call your stupid government
fair, but they don't care about us or them. Open your eyes, man! Do
you think there is justice in this world? That everything has to be
fair? I'll bet you don't even know why we're here!" He trembled then,
his energy spent, but he still cradled the stack of dynamite.
"We're farmers not bandits," said the man. "And we only wound up here
because we tried stealing back our crops and failed. Taking hostages
seemed like the only way we might get out free, but I bet they don't
tell things like that to soldiers like you. And even now, you didn't
come here to negotiate. You just want the hostages. You don't have
anything to offer me. The city values the leeches of the mental ward
above the livelihood of its farmers!" He shook his head. "I don't
blame you, but I can't let you win because I can't go back home, and no
one else is left. If I don't hold fast, nothing'll change."
The smoke grew worse, and Faith knew their time was running out. "Why
can't it?" he asked. "If it was so bad, why wouldn't the city cut you
"Would you have? Knowing that if you helped us it would mean you would
have to ration yourself? We were told we should've kept our own stores,
that we're just being lazy and not trying hard enough, and that we
couldn't back out of our taxes. Yes, maybe we should have stored more,
but that does nothing to help us now! We need to eat!"
Faith coughed, but the air was so dry. "Let me try to change that then!
I don't want anyone else to die today and I don't think you do
The smoke was unbearable now and Faith was sobbing on his hands and
knees in front of a desperate and dying man with a bomb in his hands.
Did he come all this way to die too? Was Dask... for nothing? He
couldn't believe that. What was wrong with people? What was wrong with
He heard the man stir. Faith could barely see through his heat-scorched
eyes, but it was enough.
Despair had made the man uncaring, but his pain would be their pain as
well. The dynamite he held had been lit and cold fear set in the depths
of Faith's gut.
No! No. I can't let it detonate! Too much pain already... He
thought of the people outside, expecting the building to fall, but not
like this! Were the hunters and militia standing far away enough?
Someone... help me. I don't know if I can do this. Please...
And someone, or something, answered.
Power filled Faith. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before.
Winds swirled about him, but he, he controlled them! This was not a
technique, drawing on the mental prowess of the user. This was
something else, something from outside his body. Something primordial
Trust in it. Faith knew what to do.
With a shriek, he hurled the wind at the dying man, whose gaze turned to
horror as he looked upon Faith's face. The gale tore the dynamite away,
leaving breathless the man who just held it, and battered down the door
to the exit. Hurtling through the hospital, the wind smothered the
flames, cast back the smoke, and swirled into the sky above. Its
careful parcel, now extinguished and harmless, landed with a mild thunk
amidst the hunters surrounding the building.
* * *
Faith did not remember passing out, but he came to while it was now
morning. The patients were gone. So too, come to notice it, was the
roof of the building. Did he do that? Still with him was the corpse of
the farmer turned bandit, face frozen in fear. Somehow, Faith knew that
the alien wind had not touched him, but he could not rid his mind of the
expression on the man's face.
He heard steps behind him and saw Neal flanked by several hunters and
members of the militia. They regarded him grimly, jaws set and weapons
drawn but not raised.
"Faith Tragon," said Neal, "I am placing you under arrest for the death
of Dask Lungred."
As the hunters moved to bind him, Faith just nodded and bowed his head.
It was done. He had followed his heart and it lead him here.