“Did you check first to see if there was anyone listening outside?” asked Esther. “I have no idea just how closely we’ve been watched, but we should assume that anything we know up to this point, is as good as being discussed everywhere in town, and maybe on the trade routes.”

Mercer peeked his head out of the room, glanced quickly down the hall, and pulled back inside, shaking his head. “I didn’t see anyone around,” he said. “You know, these people aren’t as bad off as we first suspected.”

“What, you mean they’re hiding treasure, or something?”

“No, I mean they’re not all as bad as we thought.” Esther gave him a hard look that made him feel like he’d been slapped across the face. “That’s quite an evil look you’re giving me, lass, what’s on your mind?”

“I’m trying to figure how you could be more wrong.”

“Wrong? What are you on about?”

“Well, it could be that you’ve just gotten confused about why we’re here,” she said, “or that you’ve spent too much time in the company of these people and convinced yourself that their niceness is genuine. We came here with our suspicions, and if anything, we’re more suspicious of these people than before.”

Mercer opened his mouth to contradict her, but she kept talking over him. “I saw what was on the island — and Alquis saw it too.”

Mercer sighed. “Yeah, and he said he took care of it.”

“Did you miss the part where there was something else? Something worse?”

“Well, I heard that bit, but he didn’t know what it was.”

“Don’t you think that’s a sign of something really, really bad? That Alquis doesn’t know what it is? Mercer, things like that don’t just appear out of the aether, they have to be lured here. Someone has to summon them. Someone knows something.”

Mercer crossed his arms to keep from fidgeting with his beard. “So, what are you suggesting? The whole town is in on it?”

Esther gave him a bewildered look. “I wasn’t saying anything like that — I said someone, not everyone.” She eyed him warily. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he said. A moment later, he added, “It’s just that I was worried these people were hiding something before, and now I’m convinced that they’re just genuinely nice people — not hiding anything.”

Esther shook her head slowly, and she looked pained when she did so. “No, there’s something else going on,” she said. She gave Mercer a strange look.