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Sins Of The Fathers
by Rune Lai


Faith yanked a loose shirt over his head and pulled it down over his waist. The hunter whistled as he tied a bandanna around his head to keep his thick black bangs from covering his eyes. Today was the start of a new guild assignment and it looked to be one of the few good ones not gobbled up by that up-and-coming, raging dynamo Alys Brangwin. Not that he begrudged her the glory. She did earn it and she kept people safe. He just wanted a bit more choice in the assignments thrown his way.

He picked up his sword in one hand and with his other swiped an amber pendant from a wooden tray on his dresser as he walked to the door. Faith walked out of his house and kicked the door shut behind him. Tossing the golden chain of the pendant around his neck, he walked down the street to his partner's house.

"Yo! Dask, are you ready?" He knocked on the front door. When he heard no answer he knocked again, louder this time.

Moments later a muttered curse came in reply. "Quit your pounding! I'll be right there. Sheesh! Give a man time to relieve himself."

Faith grinned and leaned beside the door while he waited. It wasn't long. Dask opened the door, looking mildly put out. The other hunter was a little taller than Faith, but skinny for his height. He prefered using slicers to swords to avoid direct contests of out and out strength.

"Okay," said Dask, slinging his pack over his shoulder. "I'm ready."

The two left Aiedo, headquarters of the hunter's guild, and made for the small town of Kadary, a journey of several days through hostile mountain territory. Creatures worthy of being called monsters had grown in force in recent years, giving the hunters no end of work. That might have made them richer men and increased their numbers, but only because travel and life in general had become more difficult for others.

Faith and Dask together could handle most of the possible monsters though, assuming they weren't swarmed. Those they couldn't beat they knew enough to get away from. Sandworms posed the only real problem. Faster than a man at full speed, a charging sandworm was huge, hungry, and incredibly pissed. If one appeared to be in the area, it was best to turn around and head back the way one came.

When they reached Kadary without any major incidents, Faith was relieved. Aside from survival concerns, it was important to look capable when meeting a client for the first time. A hunter often represented not only himself but entire guild. Fresh cuts and bruises, even minor ones, could lessen the hunter in the client's eyes. After all, each expected their case to be handled by the best, and, Faith thought sourly, he and Dask didn't have the reputations of Alys Brangwin.

They knocked on the door of a large, immaculate home and a young man, probably in his late twenties, opened it.

"I am Faith Tragon and this is my partner, Dask Levy," said Faith. "We're hunters sent from the guild at the request of one Jared Connerly."

"That would be me," said the man. "Please, come inside."

The living room's interior was posh by the standards of a town like Kadary, but even in Aiedo it would still only be found in the homes of the upper middle class. Jared himself seemed much a common man. His clothing, though a bit rumpled, was of better quality and materials than average, but he wore nothing extravagent. He actually looked about as much out of place in the room as the two hunters.

"Take a seat," said Jared, motioning at a plush purple sofa. The young man did not take one himself however. Rather, he remained standing, nervously, as he told his story.

"About two weeks ago I received a threat. You see, my father died recently, my mother having passed away long before, and he bequeathed a sizeable inheritance to me, much more than I expected despite being his sole heir. To be honest, I hadn't realized he had this much money. I knew he was well off and had this house, but we hadn't talked much since I decided to pursue an education in Piata instead of helping out with the family business. I suppose I always was a bit of a disappointment to him, never worthy to carry his name, but even far away I still was his only living relative, so I think he preferred to leave everything to me rather than give it to anyone else.

"But someone else must have known how much money my father had and this person probably wasn't happy about me inheriting it. My family's from Nalya originally and I doubt my father talked about me much when he moved here. I had already left home by then. No one here probably knew I existed until they read my father's will a few weeks ago. I think that perhaps this person expected the money to go to themselves, but I just moved here once I learned about my inheritance so I don't know the residents well enough to point out who might have a grudge against me.

"The note said that if I wished to avoid harm, I should deliver five million meseta at a specified location. It's not everything my father had, but still a goodly amount, and certainly more than I would have guessed without knowing his finances myself. I refused to pay and called the hunter's guild immediately for an investigation, and it's a good thing I did because after I refused to comply, the threats became more specific as to what that harm might be.

"The next note threatened my father's business, which, truthfully I can do without. I'm not a businessman and I have no interest in taking on full-time management of it. The third note threatened to burn down this house. Now, with the fourth note, this person is threatening to kill me."

Having said this, Jared seemed to calm down. He studied the faces of the hunters.

Faith nodded. "Okay. Do you still have the notes?"

"Yes." Jared produced them and the hunter carefully took the yellowed sheets of paper. The demands had been written in a childish scrawl, perhaps overtly slanted in an amateur attempt to hide the writer's natural script. Dask looked over Faith's shoulder, his expression thoughtful.

"What do you think?" asked Faith.

"I think someone's rather impatient. Four notes in how many days? It hasn't been that long. I also think this person has terribly misjudged Mr. Connerly. Notice how he threatens the business first rather than the life."

"Or he just doesn't want blood on his hands."

"Threatening the business might have worked on my father," said Jared. "It's possible the person thinks we have the same scruples."

"Possibly," said Faith. He handed back the notes. "Jared, do you have any records indicating how your father came into this money? I'm assuming his business has typically been profitable--just not at the level you expected to have earned this much money."

Their client shook his head. "I've started going through his finance records, but I haven't found anything yet. He's been active in the merchant business for almost three decades. That's a lot of material to go through."

Faith sighed inwardly. This job was going to involve a lot of legwork, but he already knew that the moment he read the assignment listing about a blackmail attempt. Still, it would have helped to have more information.

"Well, give us a list of your father's business associates; all those working out of Kadary or the surrounding area. We'll start with them. The suspect's probably someone local since they've been able to keep tabs on you well enough to send all those notes within a few days of each other."

The two hunters began the tedious process of checking the reputations of every person on Jared's list, but they avoided speaking to any of the people directly, not wanting to tip off the culprit in light of virtually no evidence. After three days of that though, they found their enthusiasm waning and when they crashed at the room Jared had given them for their stay, Faith found himself in ill humor. All the merchants were starting to blur into one giant mush, despite the notes he kept. He needed to stay focused.

"This is getting us nowhere," said Dask, placing his slicers down on a nightstand for the evening. "We've already looked at everyone on the list--some people even twice--and haven't found a thing. I'm beginning to think we're looking at the wrong people."

Faith sighed, laying back on the soft down covers. "You may be right, but we can try being more forward tomorrow and addressing them in person. Besides, we can't leave our client. Aside from guild concerns, there's a man's life at stake."

Dask snapped down the sheets with a quick motion. "You know I'm not going to quit. I'm not that kind of guy. I just can't stand bastards too cowardly to show themselves. If this guy's got a bone to pick with our client he should just come out in the open and be done with it."

"I know, but maybe he doesn't because if he does he won't win."

Though frustrating, the next day did yield a clue, though not quite the one they expected. "Seven years ago," said Lain, one of the elder Connerly's trading partners. "Seven years ago a group of bandits had targeted Kadary for months on end. Even hunters had a difficult time cornering them, and their ringleader was elusive. Common knowledge held it to be an outcast hunter named Warren Gilbright, but no one could prove a thing against him, let alone discover his headquarters.

"He nearly bankrupt the region," said Lain. "But thankfully he was eventually caught and put to trial. Robbed one caravan too many, they say. When the hunters got to his lair they found some merchandise from that final raid and they had the proof they needed to convict him. Connerly was happy because he had some stuff being shipped to him in that last caravan and most of it was recovered. Most of the other merchants involved weren't so lucky. Odd as it sounds, that's about when Connerly's business really started to take off. The raids had been crippling, but since Connerly hadn't been hit as hard he was able to recover faster than everyone else."

"Is Gilbright still around?" asked Dask. "We should ask him some questions."

Lain shook his head. "Sorry, but he was hung less than a month after his capture. He put up quite a fight though, even proclaimed himself innocent all the way up to the gallows. It didn't do him any good. The proof was in his base and we had more than enough circumstantial evidence from his prior crimes."

"Still, Gilbright might be the key," said Faith as the two took their leave of the trader.

Back at their client's home, Jared recognized the name, but little else. He didn't know of the raids on the Kadary-bound caravans. "I know my father hated the man. He blamed him for the death of my mother. She was murdered ten years ago, just before I left to begin my studies. Officially, we never found the culprit, but my dad seemed to think it was Warren Gilbright. We had no proof though. If you think my father got his money through him, I highly doubt it. He truly hated the man."

"All right," said Faith. "We'll take your word for it. But, check those financial records starting seven years ago. If nothing else it'll help narrow down your search and you really haven't a clue where else to look."

They visited the constabulary next.

"Even if we find out how Connerly came by his money, that still doesn't solve the identity of who's after our client," said Dask.

"I know," said Faith. "That's why we're going here. Gilbright had followers. If we can get in contact with any of them they might be able to give us more information."

It turned out that one of Gilbright's former men ran the constabulary. The town gave him a job in exchange for testifying against his former boss at trial, he said. His name was Sirus. He didn't remember many details distinguishing one raid from another, though he did confirm that Warren Gilbright had been quite a ruthless character.

"A very strict and demanding man. He did divide the loot fairly, which is why we trusted him, even if we didn't really like him. That's how he managed to keep such a talented and efficient group of bandits going for so long without getting any of us captured. His people knew what they had coming, though, of course, if you broke the rules he'd kill you."

"So he had committed murder before," said Faith.

"Several times," said Sirus. "He didn't keep track, but we all knew there were more dead people due to him than we had fingers to count. He was fair, but that didn't mean he was a gentleman. He'd stab a man in the back if it suited him, and if he made a threat you knew that he'd make good on it."

"Can you give us any details about his capture?"

Sirus paused and thought about that a bit. "Not really," he said at last. "The boss must've gotten a bit careless with our last raid. I wasn't a part of the group that went, but someone must've followed us back to our hideout. Gilbright was typically flawless, but I guess even he couldn't hide forever."

"I heard he maintained his innocence."

"He did," said Sirus with a nod. "For some things anyway. He was charged with a lot of crimes when they finally brought him in. Some of them might have been baseless, but really, there was so much public opinion against him that I don't think he could've walked out a free man. He just couldn't stand to admit he'd lost. Gilbright was a man who had won every gamble he had made, and then here he had to be humbled before a group of simple townsfolk. He didn't take to it well. He was belligerent throughout the whole trial. Just between us, I think the town hung him just to shut him up. As always, it was difficult to pin anything to him. They just had a bit more evidence this time."

Faith and Dask exchanged glances. "Who was the judge presiding over this case?" asked Faith.

"The former mayer, Jay Halsen."

"Thanks." Faith turned to go and Dask followed him a half step, but there they stopped. "One more thing," said Faith. "By any chance did Gilbright know a merchant by the surname of Connerly?"

"You mean the guy who died a few weeks ago?" asked Sirus. "Can't say that he did. Connerly wasn't that big in the trade business yet."

"Okay. Just checking."

A fifth note had arrived while they were gone. Jared showed it to them that evening. He had found it lying casually on his doorstep. The note sported the same writing as before, though perhaps with slightly bolder strokes, and told Jared that this was his last warning. For a man who preferred the life of a scholar, he took it rather well, resigned in fact.

"I suppose this is it. We're out of time."

"Not if we can help it," said Dask. The lanky hunter looked at Jared with a fierce gleam in his eyes. "You're still alive and we're not going to let this guy get to you. Whatever happens, you mustn't give in to blackmail demands. For all we know this guy might kill you anyway when you try to deliver the money. Stay here and we'll watch over you. Trust us on this. We'll keep you safe. We're almost to the bottom of this."

Faith wasn't so certain, but he nodded his affirmation. "We've got another lead for tomorrow and I think it's a good one. Just hold on for a few more days. We have no intention of letting you down."

And the next day Faith sprinted out on his own. Dask stayed behind to guard their client. His slicers could attack an assailant from a greater distance away than a sword and Dask's reflexes were good, so well honed that he could strike a moving target before becoming fully aware of it. At this point Faith would rather rely on his mind than his sword, prevent the attack before it happens rather than once it's begun.

"Jay Halsen? I'm Faith Tragon of the hunter's guild and I'd like to ask you a few questions about the trial of Warren Gilbright."

The former mayor was a soft-spoken old man, but his words held a vigor in them that belied his age. "I quit being the mayor because of that escapade," he said. "Warren Gilbright was guilty of many things. Of that I have no doubt. But the main crime, the one we captured and tried him for, was the one he was most vehement about. He didn't deny most of the other charges, but he was adamant about not dying for something he didn't do. We really didn't have nearly the amount of proof we should have. The hunters recovered a little of the stolen caravan from his base, but it was only a small portion, and if not for Sirus's intervention we wouldn't have found even that. Five million mesetas' worth of goods, and most of it wasn't even there. We never found it."

Five million mesetas... Faith's heart skipped a beat.

"Part of me didn't want to sentence him," said Halsen. "I knew he had commited hideous crimes, but he should have been hung for the right reasons, for the right crime. And there was another reason I was hesitant. The bandits had a little boy living with them. Without a leader to hold the group together I feared what would happen to the child. We tried to find him, but we never could locate him again after the initial raid."

Five million mesetas...

"I think I've learned what I needed to know," said Faith, motioning distractedly that he had to leave. "Thanks. Thanks a lot, but I've got to go."

He left in a rush. Dammit. That's where the money came from. But how? Who knew about this and why had they waited so long? Seven years was too long a time. What had been the trigger? Connerly's death? Faith headed for the constabulary. He had a feeling Sirus had some answers. He just would have to get them out of him, and that might not be pretty.

"Gilbright was framed, wasn't he," said Faith as he walked into Sirus's office. When the constable looked surprised the hunter just set his jaw and drew his sword. "Answer me. A man's life is in danger right now and it's all tied in to Gilbright's trial."

"What?" Sirus gaped, fish-eyed and disoriented. "But... But... No one should still be fighting over that..."

"No one?" Faith tapped his blade on the desk. "Mr. Jared Connerly just moved here upon the announcement of his father's death and he's received threats against his life in exchange for five million meseta, the very amount that was robbed from the caravan. Somehow Jared's father must've pulled off the robbery himself and then had a portion of it planted in Gilbright's lair. I don't suppose you have anything to do with that? You did point out the stolen goods to the hunters according to Jay Halsen."

"I..." Sirus growled and shook his head. "Fine, I did the planting. But I didn't do the robbing. I don't know how he pulled off the robbery, but I was only paid to plant the evidence and alert the hunters. Gilbright already was guilty of a lot, as I'm sure everyone has told you. This just allowed him to be brought to justice. No one knew about the value of the looted caravan, including me, until the trial began."

"And who would have reason to suddenly go after the money after all this time?"

"No one really. The type of people we were--we just didn't operate like that. If a job didn't work out you moved on. You don't keep grudges because they're pointless. The only one who might have held a grudge was..."

"Was?"

Sirus gripped the edge of his desk tightly in his hands. "It can't be. It was seven years ago. He was only seven himself. Gilbright's son... He was there that day they hung his father."

Faith sheathed his sword, but his hands trembled. Without another word he left the building and broke into a run. Suddenly the scribbles of the notes made sense, the kid was impatient and probably not educated in blackmail. The seven year wait made sense. The kid had to grow up before he'd be strong enough to challenge. He would be fourteen now. Dask, if you see something, don't strike first! It might be a child... Fate was cruel, that the children should be left caught in the web of their fathers.

A window had been carved open with a glasscutter. He spotted the gap as he approached the house. Faith grimly barreled through the front door shouting, "Dask! Dask! Wait!"

The shadow slipped up the stairs before him, he barely saw it, and realizing he still had a chance he lunged after it. The sudden light in the upstairs hall blinded him, and so apprently did it his perpetrator. Faith stumbled into the shorter figure. A slice of metal whirled through the air and he pushed the boy down. Dask's weapon grazed Faith's arm and the dark-haired hunter winced, but he could see clearly now. Dask held the other slicer ready, but did not throw. Jared stood behind him, open-mouthed at the spectacle.

"Didn't you hear me screaming?" said Faith through clenched teeth. "Stop it! It's the boy!" He shook his head to get the bangs out of his eyes and looked down at the teenager below him. The kid looked sullen. "Killing people isn't the way to go, kid." Faith clutched at his wound, applying pressure to stop the bleeding.

"He killed my dad," said the boy, glaring back at him; defiant. He jerked his head at their client. "I thought he was dead and came to claim the money, but it turns out he wasn't."

"The man who framed your dad was this man's father," said Faith. "It was a different person. Look. He's not that old himself. He was still going to school when the caravan raid happened."

"He was Jared Connerly!"

"That was my father's name," said Jared, stepping forward now. "He was also Jared Connerly and gave that name to me when I was born. I'm sorry..." He glanced at the boy. "I'm afraid I don't know what happened. Why is this boy after me?"

"Your father set up Warren Gilbright," said Faith. "Gilbright was innocent of the caravan robbery. That's where your father got the money, and Gilbright paid for it."

"My dad would have been fine if he had been caught for real," said the boy. "Even if they killed him he would have accepted it. He wasn't a nice person, but he didn't like being hung for something he didn't do. I wanted to help him, but I couldn't do anything as a little kid. I didn't know better, how to get the information I needed to prove his innocence."

"And when did killing come in?" asked Dask, finally lowering his slicer. "You aren't thinking of following your father are you?"

"No." The kid glowered. "I'm not like him. But that was stolen money. When I heard Jared Connerly died I wanted to see that his money was freely distributed to everyone, because everyone knew Connerly lived by himself and had no family. It was stolen and shouldn't belong to anyone. When I found out Jared Connerly was alive I thought there was some mistake. But I had already come all this way, and I'm older now. I thought I could force the money out of him. Maybe I can't give it back to the people it originally belonged to, but I could at least help someone!"

"I had no idea..." said Jared. "No idea at all." He knelt beside the boy and asked him, "What's your name?"

"Patrick."

"Well, Patrick, I don't really need the meseta. I'm not like my father either. It doesn't cost much for me to live from month to month, and there's still a good deal of meseta left that was honestly earned. If it's true that it's stolen I'll distribute it, just like you want. Does that sound okay?"

Patrick hesitated, but eventually nodded.

"Good. Let's all get some sleep then. You too, Patrick. I'll give you a room. Hunters, I'll pay you in the morning. Thanks. I'm glad I'm still alive and in one piece, but feel even better knowing what I've learned tonight."

The next day, Jared saw them off. After a light breakfast he lead the hunters to the door. Patrick hadn't shown his face since the night before, but Jared said he was still in his room.

"You were right about seven years ago, by the way," he said. "I've managed to locate a few of the points where meseta appears to have been smuggled into the books. Thanks again. I think life will be better for all of us here now. If you're ever in the area, stop on by. I think I'll be staying in Kadary, maybe even pick up the business myself. My father left some good managers in place and they probably can teach me. I may have to screen them a bit to make sure they aren't as underhanded as he was, but I bet there's potential."

Faith nodded over his shoulder as he stepped outside. "What changed your mind? I thought you said you had no interest in taking up the business."

"I didn't. But, I think I'd do better if I understood my father better. Even if he wasn't a good man, he was still my father. Also, I want to give Patrick a home. I talked to him a little about it last night when I took him to his room and he seems receptive. He's been an urchin all his childhood and I think he'd do better with someone to look after him. I only hope he doesn't try to kill me again, but I think he won't if I make good on my promise."

Jared smiled at that, and the hunters returned the grin.

"All right then," said Faith. "Good luck to you and we may take you up on that offer."

They set off for the journey back to Aiedo. Faith clasped his pendant in his hand, remembering thoughts of his own parents. It was good to understand them, even better to have known them.

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